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Talk About It, Says Teen Dating Violence Expert

Published: February 17, 2015

Teen dating violence is real and not going away anytime soon. That’s according to social work professor Christian Molidor, an expert on the topic.

“It’s not getting better, we know that,” said Molidor, who served as the director of CSULB’s School of Social Work from 2011-14. “Research began with spousal violence and then it went into college dating violence. Teenage dating violence was almost completely ignored, like it’s a non-issue, like it doesn’t happen, but it does.”

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, but exactly what teen dating violence is can quite often be difficult to ascertain. That is a big part of the problem when it comes to reporting such acts.

“When I have asked teenagers if they have ever experienced dating violence the vast majority of them say, ‘No,’” said Molidor. “Then I asked them if they’ve ever been slapped in a dating relationship? ‘Yes.’ Have you ever been punched? ‘Yes.’ Have you ever been kicked? ‘Yes.’

“But they don’t really see it as dating violence because there’s no definition,” he added. “It’s this vague term that they have not been a part of, but when you start asking about the specifics of what makes up violence, almost 50 percent of teenagers have experienced it. It’s the same thing with college students.”

When you look just at the simple numbers regarding dating violence, studies show about 35 percent on both sides—male and female—have experienced dating violence, noted Molidor. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“When you begin to look at the specifics of what kind of violence and the reasons for the violence, that’s when the real differences show,” he said. “For example, in a dating relationship when a boy touches her breast and she pushes him away, pushing is one of the dating violence items; he tries again and she slaps him. At that point, she has done two acts of ‘violence’ to his one. So, if you just look at the numbers she would be considered twice as violent as he was.”

When you begin to look at the meaning of the violence, however, such as why someone committed a violent act—pushing, shoving, slapping—then that’s where the male violence really comes out.

“The violence is more sexual, it is harder and the effects are much greater against the girls,” said Molidor. “According to the girls, the boys are much more violent, they just refused to say it. Again, if you look at the numbers it depends on who is telling you the answer. The girls’ violence is about defensiveness, like pushing away from sexual advances.

“That (defensive reaction) has no effect on the male or just makes them laugh,” he added. “So, where she gets a bruise on her arm, he makes a joke of it. So again, if you just look at the numbers it tells one story, but when you begin to look deeper at the kinds of violence and the effects of the violence and the meaning of the violence, then there is a very big gender difference.”

While physical violence may be easier to recognize, teens also experience emotional/psychological violence as well—the two quite often going hand-in-hand. Like in a marriage relationship, teenagers can experience emotional violence which can include holding back money, keeping someone from seeing their friends or giving a partner the silent treatment.

Christian Molidor

There is hope that things may be getting better, according to Molidor, for the simple reason that awareness of the issue is greater than ever.

“It has finally become an issue and schools are creating curriculums in the health class to address it,” he said. “It’s not just about dating violence in general, but the very specific acts of what happens and what constitutes dating violence. The meaning of it and what to look for prior to dating violence. Usually the emotional violence is first and, if allowed, it leads into physical violence.”

So, how can some tell if someone has been a victim of teenage dating violence?

“You’ll see the signs,” said Molidor. “You’ll see the quiet introverted disconnect, the sadness. You’ll know and there’s almost always a specific reason why that’s happening. You look for depression because that’s how it gets acted out.”

Molidor said the best way to address teenage dating violence, or any violence for that matter, is to talk about it, which he admits is not always easy.

“It begins with telling friends, who then hopefully tell one of the teachers and that’s how it usually gets out,” he said. “Girls are more likely not to tell parents because they’re afraid of their responses–‘You can’t date anymore’ or ‘I don’t trust your judgment’–all those things that go against the independence they are trying to attain, so they are reluctant to say anything.

“You can’t be silent. That is the key,” he added. “And your friends can’t be silent because it’s like suicide. Ninety percent of ‘completers’, meaning 90 percent of those who commit teenage suicide, told somebody before they killed themselves. Nine out of 10 tell somebody and it’s them who remain silent until afterwards and then it’s like, ‘Oh, I didn’t get it,’ or ‘I didn’t understand it.’ Just talking about it, that’s what gets it out in the open.”