Activists advise college students learn about dating violence

February marks the month-long awareness of violence and abuse within young adult relationships. Dating back to 2006, the practice of bringing awareness to abuse within teenage relationships was initially only during the first week of February. In 2010, Congress declared the entire month to be Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, according to Teen Dating Violence.

Teen dating violence is an umbrella term, enveloping numerous all types of aggression from physical and sexual violence to psychological manipulation and stalking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over the course of a single year, 1.5 million teenagers experience physical abuse from a dating partner, according to Love is Respect.

Many college students do not believe they are adequately equipped to handle situations regarding intimate relationship violence, with 57 percent saying it is challenging to identify and 58 percent stating they do not know how to assist someone experiencing abuse, as reported by Love is Respect.

Experiencing violence within a romantic relationship at a young age possesses numerous ramifications for individuals, such as poor performance in school, using unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance use, developing a negative self-image and becoming overly dependent on others, according to

Sonia Trevino, the community outreach coordinator at Family Rescue, an Illinois domestic violence-related service, believes it is crucial to talk about violence within young adult relationships.

“It’s incredibly important to have conversations regarding intimate partner violence at a young age,” Trevino said. “I would recommend starting the conversation before teenagers and young adults alike experience their first relationship. The more education and awareness an individual has, the less likely they will find themselves in a dangerous or unhealthy situation.” 

This year’s theme for teen dating violence prevention month is “Talk About It,” calling both adolescents and their support system to initiate conversations regarding healthy relationships and how to understand abusive behavior.

“It is crucial to begin with the concept of a healthy relationship and how it compares with an abusive one,” Trevino said.

Trevino further defines a healthy relationship as a “balance,” a means of negotiating quality time and personal life without guilt or pressure.

“Dating abuse, as with any type of abuse, is often subtler than portrayed in the entertainment industry,” Trevino said. “It can be classified as anything from excessive guilt and pressure, to always needing something such as money. It’s important to understand that dating abuse has many different layers.” 

Sophomore Ashley Cole is in favor of increasing education for young adults regarding the commonality of relationship abuse.

“I think teenagers would have a better understanding of dating violence if it was taught in both middle and high schools,” Cole said. “I also feel more recognition for this form of abuse since it’s not something I have ever heard of before, examples in advertising, celebrity endorsements, and even social media campaigns could truly bring proper awareness to the affected demographic.” 

Heather Fleet, a joint founder of Take Back the Halls, a program focused on teen dating violence and community activism, partnered with DePaul. The group allows undergraduates of all majors to facilitate and mentor activities relating to understanding a healthy relationship and how to start the conversation regarding all forms of domestic and dating violence. 

“It is crucial to bring awareness to relationship violence during adolescence, many survivors of domestic abuse often encountered this same violence during teenage relationships, further fueling the cycle of abuse,” Fleet said.

Fleet defined the cycle of abuse as a crucial component to understanding domestic violence and breaking down the victim-blaming mentality. 

“Abuse is subtle, morphing into a cycle beginning with tension and then escalating to violence before descending into the honeymoon phase, where an abusive partner may apologize for their behavior and seek reconciliation, causing the cycle to continue onwards,” Fleet said.

One unique aspect of Take Back the Hall’s approach on teen dating violence is their use of the popular education model, a design centric to examining a student’s lived experience to the teacher’s knowledge and new information, allowing patterns and meaning to form, expediting how adolescents perceive their experience with relationships in connection to their learning.

“Education on teenage dating violence is essential, by creating a toolbox of knowledge, individuals are better prepared to understand their own relationships and aid friends in navigating healthy relationships,” Fleet said.

With over 21 percent of college students reporting having experienced abuse by their current partner and 32 percent having endured dating violence at the hands of their previous partner, according to Partnership Against Domestic Violence, it is essential to acknowledge the prevailing epidemic that is relationship violence within higher education. DePaul University offers numerous resources for those currently in, or who know somebody in an abusive relationship. The Office of Health and Wellness offers both confidential and non-confidential guidance to students who are currently experiencing an unsafe relationship.

For more support or resources, visit Sexual & Relationship Violence Prevention, or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 for free confidential help.