Many teens don’t recognize they’re in abusive relationships

One in three women are physically or sexually abused in their lifetimes according to New Horizons Shelter and Outreach Centers.

For many victims, the abuse starts when they’re teenagers, regardless of gender.

More than a dozen organizations gathered at Valley View Mall to raise awareness about teen dating abuse.

Kim Jones, a sexual assault victim advocate with New Horizons Trempealeau County, said many teens don’t know what an abusive relationship looks like, and most of them never report that they’re in one.

“Less than 30 percent of teens actually ever tell anybody,” Jones said.

Jones said the abuse often starts slowly.

“I have never met somebody who their first experience of violence was physical,” Jones said.

She says an abuser may start by telling their partner they can’t hang out with their friends.

“‘You’re supposed to be spending your time with me,’ ‘if you go out and do that, then you don’t really love me,'” Jones said.

They often try to manipulate their partner to get what they want.

“They’re being pressured and coerced to escalate the relationship further with maybe physical intimacy than they’re ready for,” Jones said.

If a teen tries to leave, their partner may guilt them into staying.

“A lot of the teens I work with, their abusive partners threaten suicide, threaten to hurt themselves if a teen tries to leave,” Jones said.

Jen Scaccio, a youth and family advocate at New Horizons, said a lot of teens think this behavior is normal.

“It’s normal to look through their friends’ phones, their partners’ phones, it’s normal to want to know where they are, when they are, those kinds of things, and it’s not,” Scaccio said.

The first step to changing things is educating teens what an unhealthy relationship looks like.

“This is just part of a huge cycle that we want to lower or ultimately end,” Scaccio said.

That’s why events like this are important for raising awareness.

“We’re hoping that by having all of our different vendors here with all of their information and all of our stuff out here, that we’ll be able to have people ask questions, maybe think critically about their experiences,” Jones said.

This was the seventh year of the event in La Crosse.

Hundreds of similar events are being held around the world.

If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship and needs help, you can call the New Horizons crisis line at 608-791- 2600.

The service is free, and it’s completely confidential.

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