Teen Dating Violence and Criminal Consequences

Teenagers are diving into intimate relationships while still learning about the patience, communication, and trust required to make a relationship successful. Relationships are more likely to fail – and to become abusive – when the dating partners are young, immature, and spontaneous. Unfortunately, this has resulted in an unfortunate number of teens who experience teen dating violence in a romantic relationship. Each year, one in ten teenagers reports being the victim of teen dating violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 23% of males and 14% of females surveys indicated that they had been part of a relationship that was violent or abusive.

Teens may not fully understand the weight of their actions – especially if they have developed an understanding of how relationships operate from portrayals in the media, movies, athletes, and television. Teen dating violence can have serious consequences (both criminal and civil) for abusers. Teens must understand that actions and behaviors within the context of a romantic relationship can have consequences in the real world.

Understanding the Importance of a Teen Dating Violence Conviction

A conviction of a teen dating violence offense in California can have serious long-term consequences. San Diego criminal defense lawyer Vikas Bajaj says “teenagers are not immune from the lifelong consequences that can accompany a criminal record, especially for crimes of domestic violence or sexual abuse. A teenager may feel invincible,” Bajaj explains, “but once you have a domestic violence conviction or are required to register as a sex offender your ability to do normal, everyday things can be limited.” Bajaj continues, explaining that the ability to “apply for a new job, put in an application on an apartment, or even requesting a federal student loan for college” could be compromised by a teen dating violence conviction.

California and Teen Dating Violence

In efforts to reduce the prevalence of teen dating violence, and to help teens create and maintain healthy relationships, many states have implemented mandatory programs for public school students. In 2015, California began requiring public schools to provide educational programs about preventing, recognizing, and avoiding teen dating violence and abuse. The programs are also required to educate teenagers about sexual assault and sexual abuse.

Consequences of Teen Dating Violence

Restraining Orders

California makes it fairly simple for teenagers to obtain a restraining order. Any person over the age of 12 may request a restraining order from a judge without the consent or knowledge of a parent. Courts, though, are generally required to alert the parents to the order.

Restraining orders can seriously impact a teenager’s ability to go about their day-to-day lives. A teenager served with a restraining order may be prohibited from going to certain locations or required to complete certain intervention programs.

Criminal Consequences

Just because abuse happens between teenagers does not mean that it is any less serious. In California, teenagers who commit acts of teen dating violence may face criminal consequences for domestic violence offenses. California’s domestic violence laws apply to broadly to a number of situations. One of those situations is when violence or abuse occurs between dating partners. Teenagers who are involved in romantic or intimate relationships are included in this category. Here are a few of the crimes that may be charged if a teenager commits an act of teen dating violence.

Domestic battery – occurs when one teenager commits harmful or offensive contact against a former or current dating partner. Charges of domestic battery do not require that a teenager is actually injured. Instead, the contact must be (1) purposeful and unlawful, and (2) forceful and unwanted.

Domestic violence – legally known as “bodily injury to a spouse or cohabitant” – occurs when one teenager purposefully causes a dating partner to sustain a bodily injury. As you can see, the difference between domestic battery charges and domestic violence charges is the infliction of a bodily injury.

Sexual assault – occurs when a teenager engages in the unwanted touching of a dating partner’s intimate parts. Intimate parts include the “sexual organ, anus, groin, or buttocks.”

Rape – occurs when a teenager engages in unwanted or forceful sexual intercourse with a dating partner.

Child abuse – may occur when a teenager purposefully or accidentally causes the injury of a dating partner under the age of 18. Certain individuals (including teachers, doctors, and clergy) who witness what they believe to be child abuse must report their observations to law enforcement. Behavior that may be properly defined as child abuse is sometimes different than that which may be defined as abuse for domestic violence purposes.

Criminal Threats – may occur when a teenager threatens to kill or harm a dating partner. A teenager may be convicted of criminal threats if (1) the threat placed the victim in reasonable fear of his or her safety; (2) the threat was specific; and (3) the threat was communicated in writing, verbally, or electronically. So,  if a teenager hears a rumor about his or her partner and responds by sending texts with the message “You’re not going to be able to show your face for a while” with a “fist” emoji, they may be guilty of criminal threats.

Penalties for Teen Dating Violence Convictions

The penalties associated with California’s crimes of domestic violence vary. Teenagers can face serious punishments for engaging in abusive and/or harassing behavior with dating partners.

Teen Dating Domestic Battery and Violence

Domestic battery is generally charged as a misdemeanor. If convicted, a teen may be sentenced up to one year in jail, required to pay up to $2,000 in fines, and/or probation. Domestic violence is a more serious offense and may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecution will weigh the severity of the injury, the circumstances surrounding the incident, and the teenager’s prior criminal record when making a determination. If convicted of a felony count of domestic violence, a teenager could face between 1-4 years in prison and/or be required to pay up to $6,000 in fines.

Teen Dating Sexual Assault and Rape

Sexual assault may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The state will weigh the severity of the assault, the circumstances surrounding the incident, and the teenager’s prior criminal record when determining the charge. A teenager convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault may be sentenced to up to 6 months in jail and/or may be required to a fine of $2,000. A teenager convicted of felony sexual assault may be sentenced to between 1-4 years in prison and/or fines of up to $10,000. Rape is a felony offense, and punishments vary based on the age of the victim, circumstances of the incident, and criminal history of the abuser. A teenager convicted of rape may be sentenced to 3-8 years in prison and/or required to pay up to $25,000 in fines.

Teenagers convicted of a crime of a sexual nature may be required to register as a sex offender with the state of California.

How to Talk to Your Teen About Dating Violence

Teenage years are a time when fundamental understandings of life really begin to develop. It is in our teenage years that we begin to formalize how we approach, evaluate, and handle difficulties that life may throw at us. Teens also value a growing sense of independence and may shun advice or guidance from older people who have been in their shoes. This may be especially true for parents of teenagers. However, it is incredibly important to stay active in a teenager’s life, monitor relationships for signs of danger, and understand how to approach sensitive issues.

Kids between the ages of 13 and 18 establish habits that will affect relationships for years to come. Unfortunately, teen dating violence is a serious issue that affects thousands of teens across the country. If you have a teenager who is in a relationship and suspect it is violent, unhealthy, or dangerous – take the time to talk to your child about teenage dating violence. Here are some suggestions to help you talk to your child about teen dating violence.

Establish Open Lines of Communication and Set Positive Examples

Teenagers take cues from their surroundings and the media they follow. If they see violent relationships in the home, on television, or in a movie they may normalize any violent or damaging behavior within their own intimate relationships. You can help teens recognize unhealthy, violent, or negative dating relationship behaviors by setting positive relationship examples. If you and your teen are watching a movie about domestic violence, use the opportunity to talk about what you see on screen. Even if it doesn’t seem like your teen is listening, they are. They are hearing you on some level. Simply encouraging positive relationship habits – and pointing out negative behaviors – can help your teen shape positive habits and recognize unhealthy ones.

Talk to Daughters and Sons

Many parents may only look for signs indicating that their daughters are in abusive teenage relationships. However, it is equally as important to look for signs in both sons and daughters. Either can be the victim or perpetrator in violent teenage relationships. Staying attuned to behavioral changes in both sons and daughters is important.

Talk to Your Teen Privately

If you suspect your teen is in an unhealthy or violent relationship, set aside a time to speak privately. Teens are very sensitive to the perceptions of others and may be embarrassed about their situation. Finding a private space where your teen is most comfortable can help to set the scene for a meaningful and exploratory conversation.

Acknowledge That Relationships are Difficult

As a parent, you have had at least one – if not more – relationship from which you can draw experience, knowledge, and wisdom. Relationships are hard work and require a lot of effort to be successful. Your teen, whether they have been dating for a few years or just testing the waters, are relatively new to relationships and have a lot to learn. Try to relate to the difficulties your teen may be experiencing in his or her relationship by confirming that you understand how much energy – both emotionally and mentally – a healthy relationship requires. It is easy for relationships to fail because resorting to unhealthy behaviors is easier than investing time, energy, and consideration.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Uncomfortable

Teens will be hesitant to talk about their intimate relationships. This hesitance may only increase if the relationship is unhealthy or violent. It may be uncomfortable to broach subjects of dating and sex at first, but doing so is incredibly important if you suspect something is wrong. Your teen is developing habits and expectations that will stay with them for life – don’t shy away from ensuring these behaviors are positive because the subject is potentially embarrassing.

Understand Your Teen’s Relationship

If your teen is in a relationship make it a point to ask about his or her partner. Invest in the relationship and encourage your teen to tell you about their new interest. The better you understand your teen’s partner the better you’ll be able to evaluate the relationship. Once you establish a baseline for how the relationship operates, negative changes may be more evident. If you regularly ask your teen about his or her relationship they may feel more comfortable approaching you if becomes unhealthy.