Dating Abuse and Sexual Assault among Youth and Teens

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47% of women and 39% of men who’ve experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner first experienced it between 18-24 years of age

CDC: National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010

Influence of popular culture on teen and adolescent relationships

Popular culture, fueled by media like TV, movies, and music, normalizes violence or toxic behavior in relationships. It romanticizes tumultuous relationships, makeup/breakup cycles, explosive arguments, “take charge” male partners, and jealousy or obsession. In comparison, more mundane and unremarkable relationships appear cold and passionless. This is common in not only mainstream U.S. media but also in ethnic media frequently enjoyed by Asian youth, such as Korean/K-drama, Chinese/C-drama, Bollywood movies.  While these relationship dynamics may not be intrinsically problematic, teens who learn to hold them as the hallmarks of passion and love are less likely to spot the red flags of a controlling relationship, and to be able to draw healthy boundaries.

Note on terminology

Today’s youth are increasingly using informal terms to describe romantic or sexual relationships. Just like the relationships they represent, these terms can be fluid or lack discreet definitions. Some include:

  • Hooking up
  • Dating
  • Friends with benefits
  • Seeing each other
  • Situationship
  • Just talking
  • Just friends

Although we use terms like “dating violence,” “partner abuse,” or “domestic violence” for convenience, abuse can happen in any relationship, regardless of whether it is exclusive, “official,” or sexually intimate.

Asian and Pacific Islander Youth

Although all youth are vulnerable to relationship abuse, culture and community norms common in Asian and Pacific Islander households can impact or exacerbate abuse experienced by API youth. These dynamics can include:

  • Parents not outwardly expressing love or discussing healthy relationships or sex with children
  • Children witness controlling behavior or abuse between parents: based on our review of several studies, 21-55% of Asian women report intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence
  • Verbal abuse and corporal punishment like spanking or ear pulling is common and minimized
  • Patriarchal norms such as deference to male children/male head of household, or demanding  obedience in girls
  • Teens, sometimes even college-age children, are forbidden to date
  • Lack of acceptance or understanding of children’s sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Aversion towards discussing topics like dating, sex, and family issues with others, even therapists or professionals, because they are perceived to be private
  • Mental illness, depression, and anxiety are stigmatized. Some parents or adults may believe that conditions like depression or anxiety do not exist or can be easily overcome

 

For API youth, this could mean:

  • Lack of healthy relationship role models means less ability to spot red flags in relationships
  • Minimizing physical violence, or seeing it as somewhat normal in a relationship
  • Youth do not have an adult family member they can turn to for guidance, because they are not comfortable discussing relationships or sex, or they are afraid to tell their parents about being in a relationship
  • Youth, in particular LGBTQ youth or those experiencing mental illness or depression, feel isolated. Abusive partners can, in turn, leverage these feelings of isolation
  • Learned gender expectations, such as modesty in girls, can cause increased feelings of shame or guilt after experiencing sexual assault
  • Cultures of silencing make it less likely that survivors will reach out for help
  • Although rates of limited English proficiency are lower among API youth than in older generations, for those who face language barriers, lack of multilingual counseling/support resources in schools can be isolating

Related Resources

Hotlines

Love is Respect youth hotline
1-866-331-8453 | Text ‘loveis’ to 1-866-331-9474 or online chat

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233 or online chat

RAINN sexual assault hotline
800-656-4673 or online chat

Other Resources

Break the Cycle: inspires and supports young people to build healthy relationships and create a culture without abuse

Center for Changing our Campus Culture: directory of national organizations dedicated to ending sexual assault on campus

End Rape on Campus: works to end campus sexual violence through survivor and community support, prevention through education, and policy reform

Start Strong, a project of Futures Without Violence: a resource campaign for those working with teens on dating violence prevention

HEART Women & Girls: ensures that all Muslims have the resources, language, and choice to nurture sexual health and confront sexual violence

It’s On Us: a national movement to end sexual assault on college campuses

Know Your IX: a survivor- and youth- led project empowering students to end sexual and dating violence in schools