Sadly, dating violence is very common in the U.S. About 40% of women have experienced dating violence by the time they reach college. While anyone can experience dating violence, young women are the most common victims.
It’s important to keep in mind that dating violence covers more than physical or sexual abuse. It can also cover mental and emotional abuse.
Here are some ways to know if you have suffered from violence while dating.
What Are the Types of Dating Violence?
Dating violence can cover a range of abusive behaviors that occur while in a relationship. Domestic violence laws apply to a wide range of relationships, including dating relationships, and criminalize many of these behaviors. This means that you can seek a protective order or file a police report for most forms of dating violence.
You may not consider some unwanted treatment by a dating partner to rise to the level of dating violence. But dating violence includes many different actions, such as:
Physical assault can include any offensive contact. Punching, slapping, and kicking constitute dating violence; so does grabbing the wrist aggressively, pushing, or knocking something out of the victim’s hand. It can even include throwing something at the victim.
Attempted violent contact may also constitute criminal conduct. If someone throws a cup at the victim and misses, that can constitute an attempted assault. Similarly, if the aggressor swings a fist at the victim and misses, the law may still treat that as a criminal act.
Mental and Emotional Abuse
Mental and emotional abuse happens when the abuser uses verbal and social pressures to manipulate the victim’s thinking and emotions.
Some examples of mental and emotional abuse include:
- Isolating the victim from friends or family
- Humiliating the victim in front of others
- Using degrading names or insults
- Threatening suicide as a manipulation tactic
- Downplaying or dismissing the victim’s concerns about the abuse
The law is behind on pursuing domestic violence charges for someone who solely engages in mental and emotional abuse, but behavior like this is unacceptable and can escalate to physical violence.
Sexual abuse occurs when a victim is subjected to unwanted sexual contact. Rape, which is sexual penetration without consent, qualifies as dating violence and is a serious criminal offense.
Other sexual acts can also be abusive, including:
- Unwanted sexual touching
- Unwanted sexually degrading treatment
- Coercing or threatening a victim to obtain sex
- Performing unwanted sexual acts, even if consent was originally given
Partners in dating relationships must always give consent for sexual contact and may withdraw it at any time. No one is ever obligated to engage in sexual conduct just because they are in a romantic relationship. Laws against sexual abuse apply regardless of the nature of a relationship.
In many situations, threatening to commit violence is a criminal act. Threats can cover both words and actions, and illegal threats are not limited to those delivered in person.
Verbally telling a current or former dating partner that you intend to harm them could count as a threat. Sending threatening images or social media messages could also constitute a criminal threat. This conduct could be considered criminal in any context, not just between people who have been or are romantically involved.
Destruction of Property
Domestic violence can include intentional destruction of a partner’s property if the behavior is meant to convey a threat, such as:
- Smashing a partner’s phone
- Keying or denting a partner’s car
- Harming a partner’s pet
- Vandalizing a partner’s home or workplace
Many people only think of property destruction as a property crime. But destroying a dating partner’s property is often meant to send a message. As such, many states view it as a form of violence and intimidation. Specially if it’s during the property division in a divorce process.
Stalking behaviors can include following someone or appearing unwanted at their home, work, or other locations without any other reason for being there. Sophisticated stalkers may try to evade stalking laws by following the victim in public places like grocery stores or gyms where they have a plausible excuse for visiting.
Stalking can also include cyberstalking. This area of law is still evolving, but cyberstalking may include hacking electronic devices or gaining unauthorized access to social media accounts. It can also include circumventing blocks by the victim by using other people’s accounts or devices to access the victim’s social media.
Harassment does not have a universal definition, but usually includes unwanted and offensive language and actions that fall short of threats and assault.
Some states have laws that also include encouraging others to engage in harassment. For example, a dating partner might commit harassment by asking friends to post offensive comments on a victim’s social media page.
Revenge porn happens when someone discloses sexually explicit photos, messages, or videos without consent to harass and embarrass someone. This is an area where the laws have evolved quickly. Currently, 42 states plus the District of Columbia have laws punishing some acts of revenge porn.
How Do I Know if I Have Suffered from Dating Violence?
If you feel you have suffered dating violence, you should know that there is help available to you. To determine if the unwanted behaviors violated criminal or civil laws, it may be helpful to speak to an expert.
Many organizations have hotlines you can call to discuss your experiences with dating violence. These organizations likely cannot tell you whether your dating partner broke the law, but they can help you work through the experience and prepare to talk to the police and a lawyer.
The police and local prosecutors can determine whether the behaviors at issue are criminal. A domestic violence conviction can result in substantial jail time, fines, and a criminal record for the perpetrator.
A domestic violence lawyer can help you apply for a protective order against the aggressor. The lawyer can also help you decide whether to file a lawsuit against the aggressor for physical injuries or mental suffering.
How Do I Move Forward from Dating Violence?
If you have been victimized by dating violence, getting counseling or therapy can help you work through the mental and emotional trauma of the violence. And taking the maximum steps allowed under the law to stop the perpetrator can prevent them from doing it again. Speak to an experienced lawyer if you have suffered from violence while dating and you want to start a criminal defense case.
Or call The National Domestic Violence Hotline for inmediate help.