If you have concerns that your daughter has already been hurt by an abusive boyfriend or has become enmeshed by a professor/coach/pastor, I have listed red flag indicators so you are able to move forward with some of the advice noted in the blog, Protecting our Daughters (2). At the end of this blog, I have also noted the importance of therapy and ways to discuss this with her.
The following symptoms and signs may indicate your daughter is in an abusive relationship: In short, she will appear depressed and this can be indicated by the following observable changes:
- A sudden loss in her passions and interests.
- Grades might be much lower or drop suddenly.
- Disordered eating—compulsive overeating, anorexic (under eating) or obsessive calorie counting, vomiting or over-exercising after eating.
- Sudden drop or gain in weight.
- Sudden changes in her sleep pattern—she is unable to sleep (insomnia) or she is unable to get out of bed (hyposomnia).
- Peer relationships suffer due to the time spent with her boyfriend, who may also be disparaging of her friends.
- Unkempt appearance: perhaps dresses with less feminine flair or stops wearing makeup.
- Obsessive about appearance to the point of changing fashion styles, hair and makeup.
- Lowered immune system making her sick more often with viruses, infections, headaches and stomach problems.
- Hopeless about future or stops planning her future and may want to withdraw from classes or may stop attending class in the middle of the semester.
- Drugs and alcohol are suddenly used and/or they are being used in a more prevalent way.
- Blames and shames others for not understanding her or meeting her demands.
- Self-injury such as cutting or burning her arms, legs, and stomach area.
- Addicted to the relationship and avoids other responsibilities or relationships.
- More secretive/deceptive about her time and where she is going.
- Suicidal due to a sense of responsibility for abuse experienced in the relationship.
As parents, you always have the right to ask your daughter whether she is in an abusive or controlling relationship. If she’s unwilling to talk with you, use your leveraging power to have her discuss these observable concerns with a therapist. In other words, you may need to say something like this:
“You are not achieving and living life the way I know you can. You have the right to be loved and supported. I want you to visit with a therapist. I want to share with the therapist the things that I am concerned about—either with you present or before you speak with him/her. Your ongoing communication with a therapist is up to you. However, I will not continue to pay for your phone, your courses at school, fund your hobbies or sports until there is an agreement that you will be in therapy until this is resolved.”
If you introduce the need for therapy and your child shows no resistance, I still urge you to see if there is a way you can speak with the therapist about your concerns prior to your daughter’s session.
As a former abuse victim, my decline was subtle so I wasn’t able to grasp the ways I had been malfunctioning. I was knee deep in shame, confusion and fatigue. Providing a therapist a comparison of your daughter’s former functioning to what you are seeing in her now would give that therapist an optimal understanding of what might be happening in this abusive dynamic.
In the previous blog, I submitted some pretty scary statistics. Yet, there is hope. I have heard it said that knowledge is power. However, I believe that knowledge is opportunity and caring is power. So how does an informed parent proceed with caring for your teen? Please read the following ideas.
What should you do as a parent?
- Tell your daughter about these statistics so that she does NOT become one.
- If your daughter reports abuse to you, always believe her. You are not the investigator.
- Teach her to never give out her passwords.
- Teach her to never accept a drink from someone and never leave her drink at a party.
- Teach her not to keep secrets. If she is a victim of a crime, she has the right to report this to local law enforcement. If she has been raped (or suspects she has been date raped) she needs to go the local emergency room to complete a rape kit— and not to take a shower or wash at all before being examined. This will provide evidence to the court system that she has been raped. Her body is the crime scene and without evidence, prosecuting becomes very difficult. Due to this and other factors, 98% of rapists never spend a day in jail.
- Make sure she knows she has to fight back. She cannot bury this. This wasn’t her fault. It doesn’t matter what she should have been doing differently, she is NEVER responsible for someone else’s evil choices. The fact that they violated her is never her fault. NEVER. She did not have it coming. She did not ask for it.
- Teach her that if she is in a psychologically abusive relationship, more overt displays of loyalty and friendship to him will NOT make it better. More transparent schedules, more time spent together will NOT allay his game to control your daughter. Teach her to just walk away and not formally break up. The less she says, the less manipulation will occur.
- Encourage your daughter to tell you or another trusted adult if she is worried about what is happening. If she feels she is in any danger, encourage her to keep all digital communication and voice mails, as well as any letters/notes. These might be later needed as proof, if she chooses to file harassment charges. Perpetrators are addicted to controlling someone—the only thing that helps them is a firm boundary or a threat of punishment—such as legal action—if it continues.
- It’s fair for parents to be suspicious when they are concerned that their child could be involved in an abusive relationship. You are not controlling your child when you ask for their phone and investigate their social media activity. Check your cell phone bill as every company provides a list of numbers used for calls and texts. You have a right to know what’s happening with your child in your home or what is happening to them if you are paying for their phone bill. Let this be a standard of providing the phone in the first place.
- Teach her to lock her dorm room each time she leaves and enters her room, even if her roommate lost the key.
- We teach children to wear seat belts and they don’t think they are going to get into a car crash each time they get into a car. Teaching your daughter to protect herself and how to respond if harassment or assault has happened gives her options to be in control, not to become paranoid about people.
An ounce of prevention is worth 100 pounds of cure in this case. Please don’t wait until your daughter is hurting. Share this with her the minute she has a phone and most definitely as she ventures out on her own whether in college, graduate school or living on her own.
As parents, we send our adolescent and young adult daughters into a world that is often filled with rich opportunity. And while our goal as parents is to nurture them into God’s design and purpose for her, we must also take captive the warning Jesus gives his disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves, so be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove.” (Matthew 10) Training your daughter to know that “wolves”—like sexual predators—are in her midst can help her wisely navigate her social and romantic life. With the information provided below, I want to encourage you to teach these realities to your daughter so that she is armed with methods that can protect her from harassment, date rape, and other violations to her dignity.
As Maya Angelou once wrote, “When we know better, we do better.” Let’s keep her from becoming one of these tragic statistics so she can pursue—unharmed—the purpose she alone was born to fulfill.
Alarming Statistics on Teenage Girls & Young Women
- The highest incidence of sexual assault happens to girls between the ages of 16-19 years of age.
- Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence—almost triple the national average.
- Among female victims of intimate partner violence, 94% of those ages 16-19 years old.
- With regard to physical violence, 1 in 3 adolescent girls in the US is a victim of physical, sexual or emotional and verbal abuse.
- Violent behavior typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18 years old and these students are more likely to experience digital dating abuse.
- The severity of intimate partner violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence. Violent behavior begins typically between the ages of 12 and 18 years of age.
- Nearly all—99%—of forcible rapes involves a female victim. 54% of these incidences go unreported.
- Rape is the fastest growing crime
- Only 2% of the time is the rape not true, just as in other violent crimes.
- One in 6 girls is raped her first 15 weeks of college.
- 61% of girls will develop an eating disorder if sexually abused or assaulted.
- 67% of those who were sexually abused in childhood go on to engage in domestically violent relationships in adulthood.
- 90% of those with addictions were sexually abused.
- 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.
- One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a girlfriend or boyfriend.
- 70% of those ages 20-24 have been victimized by a current or former boyfriend or girlfriend.
- Nearly half (43%) dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors.
- College students are NOT equipped to deal with dating abuse —57% say it is difficult to identify; 58% say they don’t know how to help someone who’s experiencing it.
- One in 3 (36%) dating college students has given a dating partner their computer, email, or social network passwords. And these students are more likely to experience digital dating abuse.
Lack of Awareness
- Only 33% of teens who were in violent relationships ever told anyone about the abuse.
- 81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue/admit they didn’t know it is an issue.
- Though 82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents (58%) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse.
- Almost all abuse starts with psychological abuse. Those who perpetrate another are usually attempting to gain advantage of someone—a girl, in this case—by making them feel sorry for them. Boys in adolescence usually do this by claiming that they will hurt or kill themselves if the relationship does not go their way. To have the relationship go their way, the girl may feel manipulated into sexual acts, forced to continue the relationship, and so on. Jealousy and suspicion are a part of the dynamic adolescent and young adult men typically use to gain the pity and sympathy of the girls they date.
(Statistics are gathered from RAINN and Darkness to Light.)
In February, Ray Rice was accused of punching his then fiancé, Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City elevator. The NFL subsequently suspended him for two games. Through a series of meetings and interviews, Rice admitted to the assault. However, Rice’s now wife made a public apology, saying that she had instigated the physical aggression. While people were still upset about the event, the NFL dropped the charges and didn’t end up acquiring video footage. Monday, the video footage of the altercation was released. The graphic video shows Rice aggressive towards his then-fiancé. When she rushes at him he then punches her in the face, knocking her unconscious. The rest of the footage is Rice dragging her unconscious body haphazardly from the elevator. The footage is hard to watch. Since the release of the footage, Rice has been dropped by the Ravens and indefinitely suspended by the NFL. Within moments the footage went viral.
How does this affect your teen? According to loveisrespect.org
- One quarter of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse.
- Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national average.
What are the long lasting affects of the abuse? According to www.loveisrespect.org
- Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.
- Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys.
With one in ten teens being exposed to violence in dating relationships, it’s an important conversation to open up. Your teen needs to know that it is never ok to turn to violence in a relationship and that they never simply have to be a victim in it either. Talk to teens about anger in relationships and some healthy ways to deal with conflict, anger, and frustration. Don’t be afraid to use examples in your own relationships of healthy ways to deal with conflict. Your teens are watching you and appreciate and learn best from your honesty.
Know the warning signs for abuse and share those. Warning signs of abuse include but are not limited to: using insults, humiliating, monitoring their every move (demanding text updates, wanting to know plans, etc), isolating them from friends and family, threatening to harm themselves, your teen, or others when not satisfied.
This is a sensitive subject. According to Loveisrespect.org, “Only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse”. Teens who are in abusive relationships make excuses for their significant other such as, “It was only one time.” Or, “He promised he wouldn’t do it again. If you suspect your teen is or has been abused, call their school or any others who may have a grasp on what could be happening. Opening up this conversation is an important step in keeping your teen healthy and safe.