New social media campaign lays out red flags in teen dating violence

Teens who learn warning signs can change way they approach relationships in their future

SAN ANTONIO – February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and this year is the first that the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District has launched a full awareness campaign on social media using the hashtag #LoveNotPain.

As domestic violence cases spike during the pandemic, experts want teens to have the right information at their fingertips. The campaign involves Metro Health, San Antonio Police Department, University Health, the Rape Crisis Center and teens participating in Project Worth and the SAPD Explorers group.

“If I, as your friend, share something, you’re much more likely to pay attention to it than if the health department shares it,” said Jenny Hixon, with Metro Health’s Violence Prevention Department.

She said the social media campaign has targeted teens all month where they spend their time, making sure they know there are always red flags in unhealthy relationships.

Some unhealthy signs to look out for in a significant other include:

  • Control. One dating partner makes all the decisions and tells the other what to do, what to wear, or who to spend time with. He or she is unreasonably jealous and/or tries to isolate the other partner from his or her friends and family.
  • Hostility. One dating partner picks a fight with or antagonizes the other dating partner. This may lead to one dating partner changing his or her behavior in order to avoid upsetting the other.
  • Dishonesty. One dating partner lies to or keeps information from the other. One dating partner steals from the other.
  • Disrespect. One dating partner makes fun of the opinions and interests of the other partner or destroys something that belongs to the partner.
  • Dependence. One dating partner feels that he or she “cannot live without” the other. He or she may threaten to do something drastic if the relationship ends.
  • Intimidation. One dating partner tries to control aspects of the other’s life by making the other partner fearful or timid. One dating partner may attempt to keep his or her partner from friends and family or threaten violence or a break-up.
  • Physical violence. One partner uses force to get his or her way (such as hitting, slapping, grabbing, or shoving).
  • Sexual violence. One dating partner pressures or forces the other into sexual activity against his or her will or without consent.

That last point is the most important to Lauren Gonzalez, a senior at Communication Arts High School who started her own sexual violence education program.

“I think people forget you can be sexually abused by your spouse and by the person you’re dating, whether it’s because they’re pressuring you to do something or they’re making you feel bad for not fulfilling their needs. It’s just not really talked about,” Gonzalez said

She said that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It’s actually quite the opposite.

“I did a survey last summer, and I sent it to kids my age across San Antonio, and I got 109 responses. I asked a question: ‘How many of you have experienced some kind of sexual violence?’ And 67% of them said, ‘yes,’” Gonzalez said.

Hixon said once youths are aware any kind of abuse is happening, they need to know it’s safe to say something, specifically to adults.

“Our other message is to the parents or other adults in a teen’s life. We often dismiss relationships with teenagers by saying, ‘It’s just puppy love.’ We need to take those relationships seriously because those first experiences of love and relationships have a huge impact on how people think about relationships for the rest of their life,” Hixon said.

Hixon said it’s crucial adults keep the conversation open so teens don’t feel embarrassed or like there’s a barrier.

“So if kids think their relationship is not OK, they trust you to come to you with those questions,” she said.

If you’re a teenager and want to talk to someone about dating violence, you can always remain anonymous and call the national hotline at 866-331-9474, text LOVEIS to 22522, or visit the Love is Respect website and chat confidentially with an expert.

Parents can visit the Love is Respect website or the Metro Health Teen Dating Violence website to get more information.

About the Authors

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

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