Where Teen Dating Violence and Human Trafficking Intersect

Where Teen Dating Violence and Human Trafficking Intersect


Teen dating violence is becoming an increasingly apparent problem in the United States.

Today, approximately one-third of all teens involved in romantic relationships will experience abuse of some kind before they become adults.[i]

This abuse is broken up into three categories: physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Sometimes abuse is easy to pinpoint and sometimes it’s buried inside a relationship.

Let’s talk physical abuse.

This one’s easier to define. Hitting, kicking, smacking, punching. Leaving a physical mark on another.

Approximately one out of every ten high school students are physically abused each year by a dating partner. This translates to 1.5 million teenagers who are physically harmed by their boyfriends or girlfriends.[ii]

And physical abuse is not always a one-time thing. It’s a recurring form of abuse, and if it exists in young relationships, physical abuse oftentimes carries into adult partnerships as well.

Where there is one type of abuse, there is likely to be another. Let’s talk about sexual abuse

Being a teenager is undoubtedly difficult. Young adults experience a wide range of emotions as their bodies change and as they interact with their peers. Teenagers begin to feel the pressures of young adulthood as they start to enter into new relationships in which they feel expected to be sexually active.

Nationwide, the highest rates of sexual assault and rape occur within the age group of 12 to 19.[iii]

Though boys are included in this statistic, young girls have a higher likelihood of experiencing sexual violence in relationships. Because of their susceptibility for being abused in these relationships, girls are also especially likely to suffer long term behavioral, mental, and health consequences — including drug use, suicide attempts, eating disorders, and depression.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse is not an unlikelihood in young adult relationships, especially as uninformed teenagers start to experiment with physical intimacy.

Now let’s talk emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse is the most complex facet of abusive relationships. It is harder to define and even more difficult to immediately recognize, especially if you’re being directly affected by it. It can be so interwoven, malicious, and subtle in execution that many individuals, especially young teenagers, don’t realize they’re victims of until they have been tremendously influenced by it.

Emotional abuse includes name calling, body shaming, belittling, manipulation, controlling of friendships, social media, and communication… The list is extensive.

It includes statements, such as “You’re stupid” or “Stop being a bitch.”

It may also include less blatantly malicious claims, such as “You’d do this for me if you really loved me.”

Along with being less easily defined, emotional abuse is also discussed much less frequently than the more identifiable and physically harmful forms of abuse.

However, just because the results of emotional abuse aren’t as apparent, doesn’t make them any less serious. Though emotional abuse doesn’t have sudden physical repercussions, the psychological and mental destruction can do just as much, if not more, harm to teenagers as they enter adulthood and try to move on with their lives.

With all of this in mind, it’s impossible not to see the parallels between abusive behavior in teenager relationships and sex trafficking.

The methods that traffickers use to exploit younger people are incredibly similar to the controlling mechanisms present in abusive relationships.

The mechanisms of abuse that traffickers use to draw in and control individuals belong to the physical, sexual, and emotional categories, just like with teen violence in dating. And also like teen violence, we see emotional abuse being present the most in these situations, and in the most complex ways.

It’s tactics such as manipulation, blaming, mind games, isolation, and constant criticism that we see crossing over and being utilized to gain power and to take control away from a person.

So, we see that dating violence red flags and human trafficking red flags are usually the same.

Abusers in young adult relationships control the victim to get what they want, over and over. Typically, it is not uncommon for the abuser to be using his or her power to obtain sex, especially in teenage relationships.

We undoubtedly see this in human trafficking as well. Traffickers use these same psychological games to obtain something, but in this case, they are trying to fully control an individual and obtain sex on a much larger scale and more exploitative scale.

And we can see how teenagers who have experienced abuse in relationships are more susceptible to be trafficked in the future.

Future exploitation becomes much more likely when an individual has already experienced violence in the past.[iv]

The psychological and mental destruction that results from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse is vast and difficult to overcome. And traffickers search for individuals who are already vulnerable and easier to control because of their predisposition to normalized abuse.

So, now that we know what different forms of abuse exist, how they affect teenagers, and how they doubtlessly tie into human sex trafficking, what do we do now? We learn even more, and we start talking about it. This is where you come in.

To help lessen the number of teenagers being harmed through dating violence, it is important to promote knowledge and understanding concerning this issue.

People shouldn’t be afraid to face these facts and actively meet them head on.

It is important to spread awareness within schools, the community, organizations, other parents with younger children, and teenagers everywhere.

Parents should openly discuss these problems and possibilities with their teenagers and encourage them to enter into healthy relationships.
Teachers and workers in academia should spread awareness about teenage dating violence through active discourse and presentations. Options should be given to students in case they are in abusive situations that they don’t feel comfortable openly discussing.

And teenagers shouldn’t feel afraid to discuss dating and relationships with older peers around them. Younger people who dating for the first time should be made to feel comfortable about their new experiences in relationships. With Teen Dating Violence Awareness being this month, look around in your community for ways to involve yourself in this goal to prevent teen dating violence. Look at those around you and don’t be afraid to speak up.

And if you, or a teen or parent you know, might benefit from speaking to an attentive, well-trained, kind peer advocate, please don’t hesitate to connect to the National Dating Abuse Helpline, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, at 1-866-331-9474 (TTY: 1-866-331-8453), by texting “loveis” to 77054, or through live chat at loveisrespect.org.
[i] https://www.teendvmonth.org/teens-suffer-emotional-abuse-relationships/

[ii] https://www.teendvmonth.org/february-teen-dating-violence-awareness-month/

[iii] https://youth.gov/feature-article/teen-dating-violence-awareness-and-prevention-month

[iv] https://humantraffickinghotline.org/what-human-trafficking/human-trafficking/victims


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