Identifying myths parents and teens believe about dating violence

This is the fourth in a series of articles about abuse and violence in adolescent dating and romantic relationships.

Q: What are the myths parents and adolescents believe about teen dating abuse and violence?

A: The beliefs that either partners are mutually accountable or else the victim is at fault continue among teens. Teens condone violence at the rate of 77 percent of girls and 67 percent of boys in high school. Power and control dynamics also operate in teen relationships. There is usually an abuser and a victim.

Research studies of adolescent females vary greatly in analysis. The rate of girls who are perpetrators ranges from 4 percent to 19 percent. The studies are based on acts of violence and therefore do not account for acts of self-defense. Examining acts of violence also does not clarify the issue of mutual accountability because it does not differentiate violent attacks from violent acts of self-defense. Because of teen beliefs about condoning violence, they misinterpret the dynamics of teen violence. This information is from an issue brief on the Teen Center website reporting a project funded by a grant from the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published an article on tips for parents in 2006, in which there was a list of myths parents believe about teen dating violence. The first myth is teen dating violence is just another way to say rape. This view eliminates all the other types of mental, emotional, physical abuse and violence. A second common myth is teen dating violence is not common, when actually one in 10 adolescents experiences physical violence in dating. The figure rises to three to four teens out of 10 when mental, emotional and intellectual abuse are included.

In the same article, the authors report the myth teen dating violence happens to kids who come from bad families. In reality, teen violence happens to kids from all ethnic and racial backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, and educational levels. Parents also delude themselves into thinking teen dating violence cannot happen to their child. This mistaken belief fits with their other beliefs that dating violence is not common and it only occurs in children from dysfunctional families.

An article from the California Adolescent Health Collaborative reiterates yet more myths about teen dating violence. First is the mistaken assumption that violence in teens is not as serious as domestic violence in adults. Female adolescents are more likely than adult females to be victims of interpersonal violence. Their injuries range from minor to major. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003, 22 percent of murders of females 16 to 19 years of age were committed by former or current dating partners.

A second myth is related to beliefs about perpetrators and gender. Both girls and boys are capable of both perpetrator and victim behavior. Girls are more likely to be injured, to be sexually assaulted and to suffer emotionally, however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Another damaging myth is girls "cry wolf" and report abuse to get attention. In truth, adolescents are more likely to blame victims for abuse than to hold perpetrators responsible, so girls would have little to gain. Only 7 percent of high school students said they would report abuse.

Another myth purports the real problem is not teen dating violence but sexual predators taking advantage of young girls. In actuality, only 10 percent of abused girls ages 15 to 17 have romantic partners older than 21, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The following information adds to the mythology about teen dating violence, courtesy of A Safe Place website, a New Hampshire agency for domestic abuse support services. A Safe Place reported teens believe abuse won't happen to them. One in four teens reports some type of abuse: physical, emotional, verbal, mental or sexual. Another myth is jealousy and possessiveness are signs of love. This belief is actually the most common early warning sign for abuse.

The third myth is teen dating violence isn't serious. Thirty percent of women who are murdered are killed by husbands, boyfriends, or former husbands and boyfriends. One Massachusetts study found the same murder percentage applied to teenage girls ages 15 to 19. In addition, 60 percent of reported rapes are committed by acquaintances. The majority of rape victims are 16 to 24 years.

Another myth is men are battered as much as women. That myth does not take into account the seriousness of injuries to females and violent acts of self-defense.

Alcohol causes men to batter. Some men drink and others do not. Some batter when they are drunk and others when they are drunk or sober. Alcohol is certainly an aggravating factor and frequently accompanies abuse and violence.

Another myth is victims ask for abuse. In reality, perpetrators believe they have rights to use abuse to control partners. They believe victims are less equal. Another misconception is if people stay in abusive relationships, they really can't be so bad. Reasons for teens staying are not all the same as adults, but some are similar. The teens stay out of fear, confusion, low self-esteem, self-blame, fear of loneliness, guilt, beliefs the persons will change, or beliefs they can change the perpetrators.

A final myth is batterers are crazy people or bums. Batterers are from all walks in life.

* Next week's article will discuss the social influences that shape adolescent abuse and violence in intimate relationships.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.