Take Action Against Abuse - For Parents


Parents have a critical role to play in educating their teens and young adults about dating violence and sexual assault. A 2008 study found that 67% of students who were abused in a relationship talked to a friend, but only 13% also talked to a parent or trusted adult. [i] Do not wait until you have reason to be concerned to talk with your child about dating violence and sexual assault. Finding a way to discuss these topics early on can make the difference between prevention and intervention and also set your child up to make healthy relationship choices throughout his or her lifetime.

Evidence also shows that 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted while in college. 1 While male survivors of this violence comprise a smaller number, they are no less important. Do not wait until your child is already enrolled in college to ask the necessary questions. When you or your child visit prospective institutions, make sure to ask them about how their school handles sexual violence.

Why Focus on Teens and Young Adults?

Women who were raped or experienced attempted rape in adolescence are significantly more likely to be the victim of rape or attempted rape in college. Dating violence in adolescence is the primary predictor of college dating violence, with victims of adolescent dating violence over twice as likely to be victimized in college as those with no prior victimization. [ii] Almost 70% of female victims experience intimate partner violence for the first time before the age of 25. [iii]

Facts About Teen and Young Adult Dating Violence and Sexual Assault

  • Females ages 16-24 are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than any other age group. [iv]
  • Almost 70% of female rape victims were first raped before the age of 25, and over 40% were first raped before age 18. [iii]
  • Young women age 16-24 are victims of rape at almost triple the rate of women age 25-34. [v]
  • The number of teens physically hurt by a dating partner has not declined between 2001 and 2011. The same is true for the number of teen victims of sexual assault. [vi]

Consequences of Dating Violence

  • Teens who are victims are more likely to be depressed and do poorly in school.
  • They may engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using drugs and alcohol, and are more likely to have eating disorders.
  • Some teens even think about or attempt suicide.
  • One in three high school girls who have been abused by a boyfriend has become pregnant.
  • Teens who are victims in high school are at a higher risk for victimization during college. [vii]

Possible Indicators of Abuse

If you observe interactions between your teen/young adult and his or her partner that include controlling behavior, intimidation or verbal abuse, your son or daughter may be involved in an abusive relationship. Your teen/young adult may be the victim of dating violence if she or he:

  • Shows signs of depression or loss of confidence
  • Has noticeable changes in eating or sleeping
  • Worries about making a dating partner angry or jealous
  • Has suspicious bruises or injuries
  • Makes excuses for her or his dating partner's bad behavior
  • The dating partner follows your daughter or son, shows up uninvited
  • Is scared of her or his dating partner
  • Has a dating partner who exhibits obsessive jealousy
  • Has to constantly respond to text messages, phone calls or other communication from her or his dating partner
  • Starts to do poorly in school
  • Loses interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyable
  • Avoids family and friends
  • Begins using alcohol or drugs
  • Suddenly changes how she or he dresses in order to cover injuries

The Role of Technology in Abuse

The current generation uses technology as no other ever has. Though stalking and controlling behaviors have always been part of abuse, new technological tools give perpetrators many ways to harass and monitor victims. Constant texting, tracking via cell phone, hacking into social networking accounts and other tactics are common.

  • A quarter of stalking victims report being stalked through the use of technology – either by having email or networking accounts hacked into or being tracked electronically.[iv]
  • Texting has become the preferred channel of basic communication between teens and their friends. The frequency of texting has overtaken the frequency of every other common form of interaction with friends, including face to face.

Talking to Your Teen/ Young Adult

  • Find the right time and place for a discussion.
  • Build trust and listen to your teen/young adult.
  • Consider using “teachable moments” to start conversations.
  • Pay attention to the verbal and non-verbal information your teen/young adult is conveying.
  • Be honest about your own perspective and experiences.
  • Find ways to keep the conversation ongoing.
  • Be a role model for healthy relationships. 

Questions to ask Colleges and Universities

  • Do you have a comprehensive policy regarding sexual assault and other forms of violence against women?
  • Do you have a specially designated sexual assault advocate to provide services for students?
  • How do you train students and staff about sexual assault? How do you train students and staff to prevent sexual assault from occurring in the first place?
  • How do students know where to go if something has happened? How do you publicize your sexual assault resources and procedures?
  • Are you operating under a Title IX resolution agreement? If so, what progress have you made to comply with Title IX?
    • Information for Parents: Title IX states that a school’s failure to appropriately respond to sexual violence violates a student’s civil right to an education. The federal government enforces this law. If a school is under a Title IX resolution agreement, they likely had a poor response to at least one report of sexual violence.

For More Information

[i] Black, B. M., Tolman, R. M., Callahan, M., Saunders, D. G., & Weisz, A. N. (2008). When Will Adolescents Tell Someone About Dating Violence Victimization? Violence Against Women, 14(7), 741-758.

[ii] Humphrey, J.A. & Jacquelyn W. White. (2000). Women’s Vulnerability to Sexual Assault From Adolescence to Young adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27 (6), 419-424.

[iii] The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) (2010). Center for Disease Control (CDC). http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/

[iv] Baum, K., Catalano, S., & Rand, M. (2009). Stalking Victimization in the United States. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.

[v] Kilpatrick, D.G., Resnick, H. S., Ruggiero, K. J., Conoscenti, L. M., & McCauley, J. (2007). Drug-facilitated, Incapacitated and Forcible Rape: A National Study. Charleston: National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center.

[vi] Eaton, D.K., Kann, L., Kinchen, S., Shanklin, S., Ross, J., Hawkins, J., et al (2010).  Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance- United States 2009.  Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 1-148

[vii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Violence Prevention. www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention