Skip to main content Skip to site navigation

Isn’t dating abuse sufficiently addressed by bullying policies?

Blog post

The nature of the relationships between students are distinct in bullying and dating abuse (peers versus dating partners). Therefore, the dynamics are distinct in significant ways.

According to, the Federal interagency resource developed by the US Department of EducationCenters for Disease Control and PreventionHealth Resources and Services Administration, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

“There are many other types of aggressive behavior that don’t fit the definition of bullying. This does not mean that they are any less serious or require less attention than bullying. Rather, these behaviors require different prevention and response strategies.”

The types of aggressive behaviors that do not fit the definition of bullying include: teen dating violence, hazing, gang violence, and other behaviors.

According to, the online resource developed by the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs comprised of representatives from 12 Federal agencies:

“It is important to create spaces, such as school communities, where the behavioral norms are not tolerant of abuse in dating relationships. The message must be clear that treating people in abusive ways will not be accepted, and policies must enforce this message to keep students safe.”

Bullying policies do not define dating abuse, help students, parents and staff understand the dynamics of dating abuse, or specify how dating abuse incidents on school campuses will be addressed. 

While California has taken steps to strengthen school responses to peer-to-peer bullying, the Education Code has a serious gap when it comes to dating abuse: it does not define dating abuse, require schools to prohibit it, or ensure that schools have dating abuse policies in place.

When schools define and address violence in the context of peer relationships but are silent when it comes to violence in the context of dating relationships, students, parents and staff receive the dangerous message that abuse in a dating relationship is not serious enough to warrant intervention.

Addressing dating abuse distinctively in school safety plans and including policies in student handbooks are necessary because they establish a school environment where prevention of dating abuse is recognized as a priority.[1]
[1] Futures Without Violence 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.