While Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is observed in February, the HHS Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) and the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) work year-round to prevent teen dating violence. OAH and FYSB programs also support young survivors and encourage adolescents and teens to build healthy relationship skills. OAH is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of adolescents to enable them to become healthy, productive adults. Complementing this work, FYSB is committed to promoting safety, stability, and well-being for all people who have experienced or been exposed to violence, neglect, or trauma, including youth.
One in 10 American teenagers suffers physical violence at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend each year and many others are sexually or emotionally abused. This abuse, also known as dating violence, can have long-term health impacts, such as emotional trauma, lasting physical impairment, chronic health problems, and even death. New research suggests the prevalence of teen dating violence is even higher than reported. Last July, a survey by the American Psychological Association revealed that one in three American teens say they have been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused in dating relationships.
From the CDC and other experts, we know that a history of abuse is a major risk factor for becoming a victim or abuser. That is why the work across HHS to prevent and respond to teen dating violence is so critical: by helping adolescents who have already experienced abuse and teaching teens healthy relationship skills, we hope to significantly minimize their exposure to violence as they enter adulthood. Here are just a few of the ways OAH and FYSB are working to end violence among adolescents:
- The National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline provides 24-hour assistance to youth seeking help, advice, and safety planning around dating violence. The Helpline is a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which is supported by FYSB’s Family Violence Prevention and Services Program (FVPSA).
- During adolescence, young people learn how to form safe and healthy relationships with friends, parents, and teachers. OAH’s Healthy Relationships is an online resource that provides information and tips on issues relating to healthy relationships for adolescents and resources on how to prevent and stop dating violence in communities.
- Because having good information is so important to prevention efforts, OAH compiles state level data sheets called Adolescent Healthy Relationships Facts. These data sheets are based on survey data and posted online as a resource to learn more about the issues adolescents face, including teen dating violence.
Relationship abuse often leads to, and can get worse with, unintended pregnancies, particularly for teens. That is why OAH and FYSB have a number of initiatives to prevent teen pregnancy, support pregnant teens and young parents, and teach healthy relationship skills to prevent dating violence among young and expectant parents. These programs include the OAH Teen Pregnancy Prevention program and FYSB’s Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program’s State Personal Responsibility and Education Program. OAH’s Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF) provides services to expectant and parenting teens, women, fathers, and their families, including improving services for pregnant women who are victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The PAF Resource and Training Center contains a lot of information for PAF grantees and others working in this field.
As the directors of the Office of Adolescent Health, FYSB’s Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, and theFamily Violence Prevention and Services Program, we are continually working to promote the health, safety, and well-being of young people in communities across the United States. Too many teens experience dating violence but are afraid to talk about it. Through our combined efforts, and those of our grantees, we are hopeful that more youth will feel safe speaking up and that all young people understand that their relationships affect their health.
- Screening and counseling fact sheet, OWH, 2013, http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/screening-counseling-fact-sheet.html
- Intimate Partner Violence: Risk and Protective Factors, CDC, 2013,http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/riskprotectivefactors.html
- Silverman JG, Raj A, Clements K. “Dating violence and associated sexual risk and pregnancy among U.S. adolescent girls.”American Journal of Pediatrics, 2004.