Healthy Relationships And Identifying Abusive Behavior

By Jared DuBach
Canton Daily Ledger, Ill.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A number of organizations have started out of a need for greater awareness of the many forms of abuse that can exist in relationships aside from the physical form.


One in three girls will experience some form of physical or sexual violence in a relationship, and according to, only 33 percent of teens who were in an abusive relationship ever told anyone else about the abuse.

While the term “abuse” is a broader term than the specifics of physical or sexual violence, the connotations behind both statistics can be disturbing.

This is why Victim Services Director Diane Mayfield is urging greater public awareness of teen dating violence during February, as this is National Teen Dating Violence Month.

A number of organizations have started out of a need for greater awareness of the many forms of abuse that can exist in relationships aside from the physical form. Some of the organizations include BreakTheCycle
.org, and

While the first two organizations listed have information that can apply to both teens and adults, is optimized for use on portable devices and cell phones and has a more teen-friendly interface.

Mayfield said That’s Not Cool has digital cards that can be downloaded and used in texting and posting on social media if one sees behaviors that could be considered abusive or as potentially stalking behavior.

“Like if a guy texts a hundred times in a day,” Mayfield explained. “That’s not cool. You just made stalking. A few years back we had an intern who copied them and made them a border around a bulletin board that was on dating violence.”

The Statistics
Nearly 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 boyfriend or girlfriend.

Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average.

Nearly half of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors.

Many college students are not equipped to deal with dating abuse — 57 percent say it is difficult to identify and 58 percent say they don’t know how to help someone who’s experiencing it.

One in three 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.

One in six college women has been sexually abused in a dating relationship.

Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5 percent of non-abused girls and 5.4 percent of non-abused boys.

Just over 80 percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.

Although 82 percent of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents (58 percent) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse.

Types of Abuse
Break The Cycle breaks abusive behaviors into six categories: Emotional/verbal, financial, stalking, physical abuse, sexual abuse and digital abuse.

Emotional/verbal abuse: Non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, screaming, constant monitoring or isolation.

Mayfield describes one scenario of constant monitoring in a case where a girl was ordered by her boyfriend to send him pictures of herself in her outfit she planned on wearing for the day. If he did not approve, she would have to change or face possible repercussions with him if she showed up to school wearing the outfit he had told her not to wear. When it comes to isolation, Mayfield said it sometimes comes in the form of a girl or boy no longer engaging in activities they used to enjoy before entering into a certain relationship or becoming distant from friends and family.

Financial abuse: Exerting power and control over a partner through their finances, such as taking or withholding money from a partner or prohibiting a partner from earning. An alternative take that Mayfield described was a situation where a woman would be offered the ability to spend over $100 on a credit card if she would do or not do certain things as suggested by a boyfriend. In that case, money was used for manipulative purposes.

Mayfield also gave an example of a potential abuse mechanism that can span both the isolation and financial areas in the form of motor vehicle transportation.

“(It’s) when you have a power imbalance in a relationship where you have someone who is younger and doesn’t drive and they’re dating someone who’s older who has a vehicle,” she said. “That older person will use the vehicle to do things for their intimate partner that the person may not normally be able to do because they don’t have the transportation.”

Stalking: Being repeatedly watched, followed, monitored or harassed. Occurs online or in person and can include giving unwanted gifts.

Physical abuse: Any intentional use of physical touch to cause fear, injury or assert control, such as hitting, shoving and strangling. Mayfield said in some situations, an abuser may make intimidating violent movements to send a message that physical violence could come next. In one situation, she observed a teen boy slam a locker door next to a girl’s head while students were moving about a hallway between classes at a school Mayfield was in. Such acts of violence are an attempt to gain control of another person, often smaller in size than the abuser or aggressor.

Sexual abuse: Any sexual activity that occurs without willing, active, unimpaired consent, such as unwanted sexual touch, sexual assault (rape) and tampering with contraceptives. Even if physical force is not used on the victim, Mayfield stresses any sort of manipulation or coercion to get the victim to submit to sexual activity could be considered abuse.

“In the state of Illinois when it comes to sexual violence, anyone under the age of 17 cannot give (legal) consent,” Mayfield added. “Anybody who is incapacitated because of alcohol or some other drug cannot give consent.

And yet we have all sorts of cases where the older person is saying, ‘I thought they were older’ or ‘They told me they were older’ or ‘Well, we’ve had sex before so…’ No, you ask for consent every time. There is also promising of what will happen down the road or even threats down the road.”

Digital abuse: Using technology to bully, stalk, threaten or intimidate a partner using texting, social media, apps, tracking, etc.

The Goal: Healthy Relationships
Mayfield said many young people, because of a lack of healthy relationship role models in their own lives, may not understand what a healthy relationship is.

“When they look at relationships in the media; in movies, sometimes in their communities or in their own homes, they don’t have those healthy examples,” she said. “Setting boundaries…consent…making sure you respect your partner, and your partner respects you. All these things that go into healthy relationships. Being able to have ‘me time’ rather than being with that person every time you’re away from home and not being able to be with friends or family.”

Mayfield said a great percentage of college students don’t recognize they’re in an abusive relationship until after the fact. She said the age range of 18- 24-year-old girls are at the greatest danger statistically for experiencing dating violence in their lifetime. However, Mayfield said there are girls at a consistent level experiencing abuse or dating violence if there is a significant age difference such as a freshman dating a senior where there is a level of dependency on transportation.

Stereotypes cannot be used as guides for identifying potential abusers, as anyone is capable of certain behaviors. While physical aggression may be stereotypically applied to athletes, Mayfield said people who are non-athletic activities have potential to be physically abusive as well. With physical abuse can come psychological abuse or trauma.

“There’s healthy relationship, there’s unhealthy relationship and then there’s abusive,” Mayfield said. “If they start being unhealthy, you can work on them to get them back to being healthy. But if you don’t, they’ll go into abusive very quickly. We know that young people who are in unhealthy relationships as teens and young adults, that’s oftentimes what they end up in as adults. There’s also a generational cycle. That’s not true for everybody, but it’s out there, and we have to recognize it. That young people who grow up in a home where there’s violence, that’s the norm. They don’t know any different. So when they are out getting involved with a dating partner, they’re looking and may not be aware that trust, respect and caring are things that are supposed to be in a healthy relationship.”

Mayfield said society has to look at how it socializes boys and girls. She referred to author Jackson Katz, author of “The Macho Paradox.” She said Katz has worked with college and professional football teams and military in using the “man box.”

“What does it mean to be a man?” Mayfield stated.

“It’s about control, being strong, being a provider…It’s interesting what young people come up with. What do you say when people are not behaving that way and are outside the box? What types of things do we call them? There are a lot of names. We need to look at how we socialize both boys and girls. Think about when they’re little ones and the boys fall down. Do we tell our boys that big boys don’t cry? You’re a big boy, pick yourself up. Yet we will kiss boo-boos for little girls. We need to look at how we socialize so that it is appropriate for men to have different characteristics. We talk about our feminine side and masculine side. All of us experience those emotions.

“It shouldn’t be embarrassing for a man to want to be nurturing, caring, however you want to talk about it — to be compassionate or empathetic even though that is seen as a female quality or emotion. We need to start when they are little and work through their childhood, adolescence and into adulthood so they know what a healthy relationship consists of. And if that’s not happening in their relationship, how they can safely work to change it or how they can safely leave the relationship. Just like in adult relationships, some young people will go way beyond what they should when someone attempts to break up with them.”

Mayfield said victims of abuse can call Victim Services at 309-837-5555.

Those teens who may not feel comfortable talking directly with someone can text the national hotline by texting ‘loveis’ to 22522. Those who call the national hotline at 866-331-9474 may be patched through to Victim Services.

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