A project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health

Skip Navigation

Womens Health logo

Violence Against Women

divider line

Dating violence

escape

Click the red escape button above to immediately leave this site if your abuser may see you reading it.

What is dating violence?

Dating violence is when one person purposely hurts or scares someone they are dating. Dating violence happens to people of all races, cultures, incomes, and education levels. It can happen on a first date, or when you are deeply in love. It can happen whether you are young or old, and in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. Dating violence is always wrong, and you can get help.

Dating violence includes:

  • Physical abuse like hitting, shoving, kicking, biting, or throwing things
  • Emotional abuse like yelling, name-calling, bullying, embarrassing, keeping you away from your friends, saying you deserve the abuse, or giving gifts to "make up" for the abuse. (Read more about emotional abuse.)
  • Sexual abuse like forcing you to do something sexual (such as kissing or touching) or doing something sexual when you cannot agree to it (like when you are very drunk). (Read more about sexual attacks.)

Dating violence often starts with emotional abuse. You may think that behaviors like calling you names or insisting on seeing you all the time are a "normal" part of relationships. But they can lead to more serious kinds of abuse, like hitting, stalking, or preventing you from using birth control. Learn more about the warning signs of abuse and the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Dating violence can cause serious harm to your body and your emotions. If you are in an abusive relationship, get help.

Return to top

Teen dating violence

In the United States, teens and young women experience the highest rates of relationship violence. In fact, 1 in 10 female high-schoolers say they have been physically abused by a dating partner in the past year. Learn more about leaving an abusive dating relationship.

If you haven't dated much, it can be hard to know when a relationship is unhealthy. Some signs of teen dating abuse include:

No excuses

It is never okay for someone to hit you or be cruel to you. You may think alcohol or drugs make a partner abusive. Those things may increase the chances of abuse, but they never make it right.

You also may think it is your fault that your partner has hurt you. But you don't control how your partner acts, and you can't make someone mistreat you.

Keep in mind that if you sometimes hit your partner first, you can get help learning how to stop. Talk to a mental health professional, like a school counselor, or a doctor or nurse.

  • Constantly texting or sending instant messages (IMs) to monitor you
  • Insisting on getting serious very quickly
  • Acting very jealous or bossy
  • Pressuring you to do sexual things
  • Posting sexual photos of you online without permission
  • Threatening to hurt you or themselves if you break up
  • Blaming you for the abuse

Teenage girls in physically abusive relationships are much more likely than other girls to become pregnant. Abuse can get worse during pregnancy, and it can harm the baby growing inside you. Never get pregnant hoping that it will stop the abuse. You can ask your doctor about types of birth control that your partner doesn't have to know you are using.

If you are under 18, your partner could get arrested for having sex with you, even if you agreed to have sex. Laws covering this are different in each state. You can learn more about the law in your state.

Return to top

Leaving an abusive dating relationship

If you think you are in an abusive relationship, learn more about getting help. See a doctor or nurse to take care of any physical problems. And reach out for support for your emotional pain. Friends, family, and mental health professionals all can help. If you're in immediate danger, dial 911.

If you are thinking about ending an abusive dating relationship, keep some tips in mind:

  • Create a safety plan, like where you can go if you are in danger.
  • Make sure you have a working cellphone handy in case you need to call for help.
  • Create a secret code with people you trust. That way, if you are with your partner, you can get help without having to say you need help.
  • If you're breaking up with someone you see at your high school or college, you can get help from a guidance counselor, advisor, teacher, school nurse, dean's office, or principal. You also might be able to change your class schedules or even transfer to another school.
  • If you have a job, talk to someone you trust at work. Your human resources department or employee assistance program (EAP) may be able to help.
  • Try to avoid walking or riding alone.
  • Be smart about technology. Don't share your passwords. Don't post your schedule on Facebook, and keep your settings private.

If you are ending a long-term or live-in dating relationship, you may want to read our section on domestic and intimate partner violence.

Return to top

Staying safe when meeting someone new

If you are meeting someone you don't know or don't know well, you can take steps to stay safe. Try to:

  • Meet your date in a public place
  • Tell a friend or family member your date's name and where you are going
  • Avoid parties where a lot of alcohol may be served
  • Make sure you have a way to get home if you need to leave
  • Have a cellphone handy in case you need to call for help

Return to top

Avoiding date rape drugs

Date rape drugs are drugs that are sometimes put into a drink to prevent a person from being able to fight back during a rape. These drugs have no color, taste, or smell, so you would not know if someone put them in your drink. They also make it hard to remember what happened while you were under their influence.

If you go to a club, bar, or party, here are some steps to take to avoid date rape drugs:

  • Don't accept drinks from other people.
  • Keep your drink with you at all times, even when you go to the bathroom.
  • Don't drink from punch bowls or other open containers.
  • If you lose track of your drink, dump it out.

You can read answers to frequently asked questions about date rape drugs. And keep in mind that drinking a lot of alcohol can make it hard to fight off an attacker, too.

Return to top

More information on Dating violence

Explore other publications and websites

Connect with other organizations

Content last updated: May 18, 2011.

Resources last updated: May 18, 2011.

Return to top