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Fact sheet: promoting healthy relationships and preventing teen dating violence – an imperative for student safety and academic achievement

Blog post

“Teaching healthy relationship skills early on 
is integral in the prevention of teen dating violence, which is far too prevalent and prevents far too many students from being able to focus on their education.”
– Kevin Jennings, the Assistant Deputy Secretary, 
US Department of Education[i]

Teen dating violence (TDV) is the use of physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or technological abuse by a person to harm, threaten, intimidate, or control a dating partner, regardless of whether that relationship is continuing or has concluded, or the number of interactions between the individuals involved. Abuse occurs in relationships among young people from all races, class backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities. TDV is associated with a host of adverse outcomes, including poor health and mental health, use of alcohol and drugs, eating disorders, truancy and drop out. Adolescents and young adults have the highest rates of intimate partner violence of any age group, with young women ages 16-24 at the highest rate for victimization. 

The pervasiveness and harm of TDV affects the entire school climate, distracting students from their focus on learning. Education programs to promote healthy relationships and prevent TDV through family-school-community partnerships can increase safety and academic achievement for California’s most cherished residents and most valuable resource – our youth. Healthy relationships skills in communication, critical thinking, empathy and boundary-setting not only keep students safe and focused on learning, they can also be applied into adulthood at home, work and in the community.

Teen Dating Violence is Pervasive and Harmful

  • Approximately 1 in 3 adolescent girls in the US is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner – a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth.[ii]
  • Young women ages 16 to 24 experience the highest per capita rates of intimate violence.[iii]
  • Victims of TDV are at greater risk for poor health and mental health outcomes.[iv]
  • A substantial number of TDV incidents occur in school buildings and on school grounds.[v]
  • Abusive behaviors learned in adolescence can escalate into adulthood.[vi]
  • The impact of dating and domestic violence is devastating, both economically and socially. In 2006, the cost of intimate partner violence was estimated at $5.8 billion.[vii] The cost to the youth of California cannot be measured in dollars.  

Students Can’t Learn if They Don’t Feel Safe

  • The pervasiveness of abusive behaviors occurring on school campuses affects the overall school climate and distracts students from their focus on learning.[viii] [ix] [x]
  • TDV victims have lower academic performance and are at greater risk for truancy and dropout.[xi] [xii]
  • According to analyses of data from the Youth Risk Behavioral Survey for San Francisco and Los Angeles, high school girls who were victims of physical dating violence in the past 12 months were more than twice as likely not to attend school due to feeling unsafe at school – or on the way to or from school – on one or more occasions in the past 30 days compared to non abused girls (20 percent versus 8 percent).[xiii] 

Teen Dating Violence and Bullying Are Closely Linked

  • Students who reported that they had perpetrated physical dating violence were nearly five times more likely to report perpetrating physical peer violence.[xiv]
  • In a cross-sectional study with 369 middle school and 315 high school youth, bully-victims (students who were both bullied and who bullied others) reported significantly more physical and emotional dating violence victimization compared to other bullying subtypes: uninvolved, victims and bullies.[xv]

Schools Can Effectively Address Teen Dating Violence through Curricular, Extra-Curricular and School Climate Improvement Efforts

“Schools need to think of teen dating violence prevention not as an ‘add on’ but as something that is integrated into the curriculum at every grade level.”
– Stephanie Pappas, 
School Health Education Consultant, 
California Department of Education[xvi]

  • California schools have “an obligation to protect pupils from mistreatment from other children” and to protect the right of every student “to attend campuses which are safe, secure, and peaceful.”[xvii]
  • In 2008, the CA Attorney General’s Office encouraged schools to offer TDV prevention education through multiple school activities as an integral component of a school’s academic mission.[xviii]
  • Also in 2008, the State Board of Education adopted Health Education Content Standards for CA Public Schools, Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve, which include grade-level recommendations and content areas that address risky dating situations and characteristics of healthy relationships.[xix]
  • The American Bar Association recommends that TDV prevention activities be integrated into the following classes: English, math, government/citizenship, computer/media production, drama/theater, family/consumer science, art and health.[xx]

“If we can reach young people in middle school, to make them aware of the nature of abuse and show them how they can prevent it, we may be able to stop this spiraling cycle of pain before middle school students get involved in it.”
– United States Representatives John Lewis (D-GA)[xxi]

In 2010, Futures Without Violence (formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund) and Break the Cycle released a model policy which reflects the latest research on effective school-based efforts to promote healthy relationships and prevent TDV. The model policy includes recommendations and examples of model programs for prevention education through curricular activities, extra-curricular activities and school climate improvement efforts, and activities to support parent/caregiver engagement.[xxii]

School interventions that focus on creating a positive school environment can increase academic achievement, reduce dropout, reduce violence including TDV, and increase teacher retention.[xxiii]

“I call upon all Americans to support efforts in their communities and schools, and in their own families, to empower young people to develop healthy relationships throughout their lives and to engage in activities that prevent and respond to teen dating violence.”
– President Barack Obama[xxiv] 

[i] Family Violence Prevention Fund. (2011.) Middle School – A Key Time to Intervene To Prevent Dating Violence. San Francisco, CA: Author.
[ii] Davis, A. (2008.) Interpersonal and physical dating violence among teens. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus. Oakland, CA: National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
[iii] US Bureau of Justice (2000.) US Bureau of Justice Special Report: Intimate Partner Violence. Washington, DC: Author.
[iv] Silverman, J, Raj A, et al.  (2001.)  Dating violence against adolescent girls and associated substance use, unhealthy weight control, sexual risk behavior, pregnancy, and suicidality. JAMA.  286:572-579.
[v] Molidor, C. & Tolman, R. (1998). Gender and contextual factors in adolescent dating violence. Violence Against Women, 4 (2), 180-194.
[vi] Graffunder,  Noonan,  Cox, and Wheaton. (2004.) Through the public health lens. Preventing violence against women: An update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Journal of Women’s Health, 13, 5-14.
[vii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2003.) Costs of intimate partner violence against women in the United States. Atlanta, GA: Author.
[viii] Eaton, Davis, Barrios, Brener & Noonan. (2007.) Behaviors among U.S. high school students participation, co-occurrence, and early initiation of risk behaviors among U.S. high school students. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22, 585.
[ix] California Attorney General’s Office. (2008). A Guide to Addressing Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Violence in a School Setting. Sacramento, CA: Author.
[x] Lipson, J. (2001.) Hostile hallways: Bullying, teasing, and sexual harassment in school. New York: AAUW Educational Foundation.
[xi] California Attorney General’s Office and the California Department of Education. (2004.) A Preventable Epidemic: Teen Dating Violence and Its Impact on School Safety and Academic Achievement. Sacramento, CA: Author.
[xii] Eaton, DK, KS Davis, L Barrios, ND Brener and RK Noonan. (2007.) Associations of dating violence victimization with lifetime participation, co-occurrence, and early initiation of risk behaviors among US high school students. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22: 585.
[xiii] Davis, A. (2008.)  Interpersonal and physical dating violence among teens. Oakland, CA: The National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus.   
[xiv] Swahn MH, Simon TR, Hertz MF, et. al. (2008.) Linking dating violence, peer violence, and suicidal behaviors among high-risk youth. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 34(1): 30-38.
[xv] Espelage DL and MK Holt. (2007.) Dating violence and sexual harassment across the bully-victim continuum among middle and high school students. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36:799-811.
[xvi] Pappas, S. Assembly Select Committee on Domestic Violence Informational Hearing, Feb 23, 2010. Sacrament, CA.
[xvii] California Constitution, Article 1, § 28(c).
[xviii] California Attorney General’s Office. (2008.) A Guide to Addressing Teen Dating and Sexual Violence in a School Setting. Sacramento, CA: Author.
[xix] California State Board of Education. (2008.) Health Education Content Standards for California Public Schools, Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve. Sacramento, CA: Author.
[xx] American Bar Association. (2006.) Teacher’s Guide: Interesting, Fun, and Effective Classroom Activities To Influence Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention. Author: Washington, DC.
[xxi] Family Violence Prevention Fund. (2011.) Middle School – A Key Time to Intervene To Prevent Dating Violence. San Francisco, CA: Author.
[xxii] Family Violence Prevention Fund and Break the Cycle. (2010.) A School Policy to Increase Safety: Promote Healthy Relationships and Prevent Teen Dating Violence Through Improved School Climate. San Francisco, CA: Author.
[xxiii] Cohen, J, Pickeral, T, and P Levine. (2010). The Foundation for democracy: Social, emotional, ethical, cognitive skills and dispositions in K-12 schools.” Inter-American Journal of Education for Democracy, 3(1): 73-94.
[xxiv] The White House Office of the Press Secretary. (2011.) Presidential Proclamation, National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month 2011. Washington, DC: Author.