Dating violence is a serious and widespread problem facing today’s youth. According to the data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) approximately 10% of high school students have reported physical and sexual victimization from a dating partner in the past 12 months. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 are the most susceptible to dating violence (about triple the national average). According to a survey by the CDC, 23% of females and 14% of males who experienced abuse by an intimate partner, first experienced it between the ages of 11 and 17 years. Sadly, many of these youth fear reporting the abuse, so the number of abuse incidents is likely much higher than is documented.
In effort to help youth understand the importance of healthy relationships, I reached out to an abuse survivor to share her story of unhealthy relationships, abuse and the quest for self-respect. Tanisha Bagley is no stranger to teen dating violence as she experienced it firsthand in her adolescent years. In fact, her abusive relationship began at the age of 15 when her high school sweetheart started physically tormenting and psychologically abusing her. Tanisha explained her fear of being in the abusive relationship, “He knew my every move, who I was with, where I was going, and who my friends were. He would threaten me, and tell me if I ever left him he would kill me. I began to believe him and...soon the words became my reality. He started forcing me to skip school lunch and have sex with him. Once when I refused, he threw me down a flight of stairs. He was very physically abusive. I remember, he use to cut me all over my body with a knife. If I so much as spoke with another guy, he would hit me. One time he punched me so hard he gave me a black eye only because he thought I knew another a guy. In truth, I had never seen him. Because of the abusive relationship, I didn’t have a good high school experience.”
Coming from a family where intimate partner violence was prevalent, Tanisha continued to live in the vicious abusive cycle, and she eventually married her abuser. The abuse continued in her relationship until one day, she decided to break free. She recalls disciplining her three-year-old son, and in her scolding he told her his ‘daddy’ would to take her ‘in that room’ (pointing to the room in which she was frequently abused) and beat her when he got home. That was the turning point. Tanisha knew at that moment if she didn’t leave her partner the abuse cycle would repeat. She questioned the messages she was sending her children and how it would affect them in the future. She knew she had no choice, but to escape.
Today, fourteen years later, Tanisha carries her message to other abuse survivors by speaking out both locally and nationally on issues of abuse. Additionally, she writes about her experience in order to help others who have been traumatized by violent and abusive relationships. Upon reflecting on her experience, she put together 10 essential questions for youth to ask themselves to determine if they are in a healthy relationship.
How Healthy is Your Relationship?
1. Does your partner isolate you from your family and friends?
2. Does your partner make you feel as if everything is your fault?
3. Does your partner physically, verbally, sexually, emotionally, mentally and/or financially abuse you?
4. Does your partner control where you go?
5. Does your partner control what you say?
6. Does your partner control what you wear?
7. Does your partner threaten you in any way?
8. Does your partner force you to do things you don't want to do?
9. Does your partner make you cry more than smile?
10. Does your partner argue with you all of the time?
Answering “yes” to any of these questions is a warning sign that you may be in an unhealthy relationship. According to Tanisha, “a healthy relationship is being in any type of relationship that allows you to always be who you are and not changing who you are because of someone else.” She recommends trusting your instincts and not blaming yourself for another person’s decisions. She adds, "There should be a feeling of love and equality in a healthy relationship. Love does not hurt. A relationship should consist of patience, kindness and understanding."
There are extreme consequences associated with unhealthy and abusive relationships. According to the CDC, teens who are in abusive relationships are more susceptible to depression and anxiety, unhealthy risk-taking behaviors (e.g., drug and alcohol use), self-harm and suicidal ideation. Plus, teens who are in abusive relationships in high school are at a greater risk of being in abusive relationships in college.
If you are a teen in an unhealthy relationship, please seek help and tell a trusted adult. Tanisha explains “Your relationship could endanger your life. Love yourself enough to get the help you need to get out of the abusive relationship. No one deserves to be abused! It’s not your fault. You matter, your life matters, living a happy healthy life matters. If you are the parent of a teen who is in an abusive relationship - be supportive. Do not judge nor place blame on your child. Abusive relationships are complicated and what your teen needs most is your unconditional love and support.”
In closing, Tanisha adds, “Remember we all have a choice in life and no one should ever take that away from us. Love does not hurt, you are worthy and you deserve the best, don’t settle for less.”
Bagley, Tanisha (2013). The Price of Love. Printhouse Books, Atlanta, GA.
Vagi, K. J., Olsen, E. O., Basile, K. C., & Vivolo-Kantor, A. M. (2015). Teen dating violence (physical and sexual) among US high school students: Findings from the 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Pediatrics, 169, 474-482.