Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Power and Control in Teen Dating

This week’s guest blogger is Travis Sappington, a Children’s Therapist for Hope House.

I enjoy working with children and teenagers. I think they are genuine and they know if I am being genuine too. I have worked with children and families in domestic violence situations in our shelter services and outreach programs for over three years. My hope is that I make them feel safe so they can share whatever they need to.

Dating violence is domestic violence not yet grown up. No one deserves to be abused by anyone. Living free of abuse is a basic human right, yet many of our teens are already experiencing abuse from someone who says he loves her.


In therapy, I use a tool called the Power and Control Wheel for Teen Dating. It illustrates the different types of behaviors an abuser uses to control his victim. Below you’ll see some of the behaviors found on the Wheel, along with actual statements clients have made to me about finding themselves in these situations.

Isolation: Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, where she goes. Controlling her extracurricular activities. Statement heard: “I haven’t hung out with my friends in forever, just with him.”

Emotional Abuse: Putting her down or making her feel bad about herself. Calling her names. Making her think she’s crazy. Mind games. Embarrassing her in front of her classmates. Telling lies to friends, family members, teachers, etc. Peer pressure. Statement heard: “I guess he gets upset when he can’t get a hold of me. He called my dad the other day because I didn’t answer his calls or texts. I didn’t answer because I was in class.”

Economic Abuse: Making her “pay” (usually sexually) for dates, presents, etc. Statement heard: “Yes, he has made me do things I don’t want to do!”

Sexual Abuse: Making her do sexual things against her will or before she is ready. Physically attacking the sexual parts of her body. Treating her like a sex object. Using sex after an argument to make up. Telling her that teasing him is hurting him physically. Statement heard: “Umm…I am scared because we have taken things really, really fast.”

Using Vehicle: Driving fast and/or recklessly with her in the car. Driving her to an isolated place and threatening to leave her. Statement heard: “He has only swerved or jerked the wheel a couple times. It's no big deal.”

Threats: Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her. Threaten to hurt/kill her family, friends, or pets. Statement heard: “He said he would hurt me if I would leave him.”

Using Male Privilege: Treating her like a servant. Making all the “big” decisions. Acting like the master of her in front of her friends. Statement heard: “No, I don’t pick where we eat. He always does!!”

Intimidation: Putting her in fear by using looks, threats, actions, gestures, loud voice, smashing things, destroying her property. Statement heard: “I am always anxious when I am on the phone with him. I don’t want to upset him.”

Do you know if your daughter is experiencing any of these issues? Ask her. Don’t wait for her to come to you. If you need help figuring out what to say, call the Hope House hotline at 816-461-HOPE (4673) or visit one of these websites:

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