Abuse pattern Can Begin With Dating

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(The Vancouver Sun, June 25, 2001)

Q: My teenage daughter has been dating a boy for about six months now. At first things seemed to be fine, but in the last couple of months or so I have noticed some changes. She used to hang out equally with both her boyfriend and her friends, but I haven’t seen her girlfriends around lately. When I ask about them, she just says they’ve been busy so just sees them at school. She’s so quiet and withdrawn now. What really worries me is that the other night at dinner she pushed up her sleeves and I noticed a strange bruise on her arm. When she caught me looking at it, she quickly rolled her sleeves back down, which worried me even more. I have a bad feeling about this kid. Do you think he might be abusing her?

S.L., West Vancouver, B.C.

Saleema and Teresa: Although there could be several explanations for your daughter’s bruise, your concern is justified. Teen dating violence is actually more common than people might expect. There is evidence to suggest that abuse in dating relationships may occur as frequently as long-term adult partnerships (Health Canada, 1995). Recent Canadian studies also show that one in four teenage girls report having been physically abused by their boyfriends. Equally worrisome is that violent teens often become violent adults. Violence will occur at least once in two-thirds of all marriages and 30% of female homicide victims are killed by their partners (SAPAC, 1991) . Keep in mind that experts warn that the incidence of domestic and dating violence is underreported due to its sensitive nature. Parents are wise to be paying such close attention not only to the physical signs of abuse, but to the more subtle emotional signs such as withdrawal, depression, and isolation. Early warning signs to watch out for in an abuser include extreme jealousy and possessiveness, a controlling attitude, mood swings and explosive anger.

You may want to approach your daughter and tell her what you’ve noticed. Expect her to deny that her boyfriend is abusing her in any way. Fear, embarrassment and shame may prevent her from disclosing until she is ready to leave the relationship. Regardless, hearing that you are aware that something is up and that you want to help will offer her an invitation to talk to you when she is ready. Next, make some phone calls to your daughter’s friends, who are invaluable sources of information. You may also want to speak to her school counselor so that he or she is aware of the situation. Although a disclosure of abuse can’t be rushed, time is a concern for obvious reasons. Without throwing it in her face, do everything you can to educate your daughter. The National Film Board of Canada has a variety of videos on dating violence that may be helpful. The British Columbia Institute Against Family Violence (604-669-7055) is also a valuable community resource. For a more subtle approach, leave relevant literature such as books or magazine articles around the house and use them to initiate conversation.