Love Is Respect: Teen Texting Tools Aim To Dial Down Dating Abuse

LIRasksFeb. 2, 2015 Update February marks the beginning of “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month” and given the powerful PSA from “No More” on domestic violence in the Super Bowl yesterday that I wrote about extensively, I thought I’d add my own ‘PSA reminder’ that roots to unhealthy relationships can seed themselves early on, and diff forms of abuse definitely happen to TEENS.

Please join in the conversation using the hashtag #LIRasks (Love is Respect: Asks) which begins today with “What are the most important aspects of a healthy relationship?” encouraging youth to start talking about these elements early and often.

Here are some conversation openers and resources. Meanwhile, see the line-up of related reading on Shaping Youth about “Teen DV Month” at the end of this post along with a few new ones, including the important No NFL which I believe is a “pitch perfect PSA” prompting EVERYone to start ‘reading between the lines’ for health literacy. Here are a couple more I wrote to add to the links list at the end.

Circle of 6 Campus Dating App: What it Is and What it Isn’t

Victim Blaming, “Asking For It” And Baiting Outrage on the Radio


Original Post: Oct. 4, 2011 “No, he’s not abusive, he’s just a douche.”

Ahem. Okayyy. (See The Bro Code film/post about disrespect)

It’s getting harder by the day to discern where boundary lines are drawn with loaded terms becoming part of everyday media and lots of ‘j/k’ (just kidding) zingers lobbed into the verbal abuse mix.

This season’s “New Girl” on TV has guys put money in the “Douchebag Jar” for moronic moves. “Pimp and ho” are used as adjectives and verbs in teen chatter, and once verboten F-bombs and N-words can be heard in twisted contexts sometimes lobbed into the mix with playful affection. (which will never land on me anything but sideways)

So tell me…how is a teen supposed to sort out early on who’s “just a jerk’ from those who lurk, stalk, cajole and foul up a healthy sense of R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

October is both National Bullying Prevention and Domestic Violence Awareness Month(DVAM) so it seems like a great time to salute the stellar work of Love Is, especially since we’ve hit some new levels of low in coarseness and disrespect in media modeling where volatile outbursts, door slamming, rude rhetoric, sexist slurs, put downs and snark from “Reality TV” to music videos are commonplace.

Love Is Respect unites stellar resources like Break the and The National Dating Abuse Helpline across media platforms skillfully helping teens navigate the nuances with great show-n-tell categories, “Is THIS abuse?” and short excellent videos that literally draw lines for teens between controlling and concerned to help them sift through words, tone, voice, behavior, and FEELINGS to get a handle on their socio-emotional landscape that often puts their inner (and outer) health at stake.

Now,  they’re expanding their youth outreach to ‘meet teens where they are’ with an all new service Love is Respect 24/7 peer to peer TEXTING.

Live chat, advice via SMS, relationship quizzes and health 2.0 style media interventions, (straight, LGBT, questioning) are designed to deter dicey domestic and dating situations with solutions in real time.

It’s like having a prevention pal in the pocket to get a reality check when something seems ‘off’ and teens want an anonymous, objective read on a situation…

All too often though, when people mention “domestic/dating violence” (“DV”) imagery starts to jump cut like a media film to purple ribbons, nasty bruises, or Rihanna/Chris Brown horror stories to dismissively tune out the subject…

It’s almost as if to self-ensure, ‘nope, doesn’t apply to me, nosirreee’ so I’m going to take a different approach to DV today and shine the spotlight on verbal abuse, since there seems to be plenty of squishy room and loopholes there.

Elin Waldal, author of Tornado Warning a memoir of teen dating violence explains,

“When physical violence doesn’t accompany the verbal abuse, kids feel “they can handle it” or sometimes think ‘at least he/she isn’t hitting me,’ but inside, they are disappearing.”

Disappearing. Invisible. Transparent. A flimsy, ghostly visage of what was once a whole being? Definitely NOT worthy of “It’s no big deal” minimizing…

So how can we best use solutions-based media to PREVENT this from happening in the first place and intervene when warning signs are flickering on?

There’s amazing work being done in this realm, from prosocial policy, mobile app education and curriculum developers at Liz Claiborne’s Love Is Not Abuse…to the cyclebreakers at The Respect who educate, advocate and organize trainings all around issues of respect, boundaries and self-worth (far beyond DV).

It’s encouraging really, to see the amplification of helpful media conduits in a once ‘not discussed’ kick it under the carpet issue that’s now out in the open, albeit not as widely as it should be.

I called upon teen dating abuse survivor, DVAM advocate and Love Is Not Abuse regional rep Elin Waldal to help sift and sort through warning signs with her firsthand wisdom.

Elin is donating 20% of her Tornado Warning book proceeds throughout October to Love Is Respect, so it’s a perfect fit for using media to open conversations. Here’s how to ‘read for the cause.’ 

How can you further help?

Open up talking points among youth (8 pp pdf) using media and convey the ‘time to talk about it’ is NOW, before abusive relationships latch on and leech the lifeblood out of kids. (and yes, media itself has plenty of complicity in perpetuating toxic messages, and that’s a separate but integrally enmeshed battle, as Elin’s poignant video montage reveals)

We can also start by understanding that domestic violence DOES include verbal abuse.

And while that message has been amped and ramped in the digital realm of ‘cyberbullying’ (great work by MTV’s A Thin Line in this area) it still been largely ignored on the homefront of relationship intimacy where words can be used like battering rams for depletion.

When betrayal comes from WITHIN a close, once-trusted relationship (partner, parent, or extended family) it’s all the more upending.

It can leave the recipient disoriented and vulnerable, wondering what’s ‘real’ anymore.

It not only pummels trust and damages self-worth, it hollows out the terra firma to eggshells and rabbit holes, where every step becomes Alice in Wonderland surrealism.

Before we begin our chat with Elin, here are a few staggering stats for context from Love Is

Teen Dating Violence Prevalence

•    Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.
•    One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.
•    One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
•    One quarter of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse.
•    Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national average.
•    Violent behavior typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18.
•    The severity of intimate partner violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence.
•    About 72% of eighth and ninth graders are “dating”.

Long-lasting Effects

•    Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.
•    Being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a STI.
•    Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys.

Dating Violence and the Law

•    Eight states currently do not include dating relationships in their definition of domestic violence. As a result, young victims of dating abuse often cannot apply for restraining orders.
•    New Hampshire is the only state where the law specifically allows a minor of any age to apply for a protection order; more than half of states do not specify the minimum age of a petitioner.
•    Currently only one juvenile domestic violence court in the country focuses exclusively on teen dating violence.
Lack of Awareness
•    Only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse.
•    Eighty one percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.
•    A teen’s confusion about the law and their desire for confidentiality are two of the most significant barriers stopping young victims of abuse from seeking help.

Shaping Youth Chats with DVAM Advocate/Love Is Not Abuse action leader, author of Tornado Warning, Elin Stebbins Waldal

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Love the “read for a cause” Tornado Warning philanthropy; it’s fun to see old media (books) support new media (mobile texting) as DV intervention…

…But why did you choose Love is Respect as your donation station when you’re an action leader for Love Is Not Abuse?

How do these two orgs differ and how do they align?

Tornado Warning Author, Elin Waldal:

LINA (Love is Not Abuse) isn’t set up for taking donations in this manner as it’s really a corporate social responsibility advocacy arm of Liz Claiborne that makes change at the voter level.

LINA’s audience is geared more toward parents, not youth as the end user, that’s why they have their new mobile APP for parents to educate and engage.

They’re all about guiding toward policy for solutions, striving to get a mandated teen dating violence curriculum into schools in every state.

It’s FREE for the asking. You can download it yourself, all they require is the ‘why do you want it, how will you use it.’ (Amy’s note: I’m going to order this and use it for media literacy when I show Media Education Foundation films)

Love is Respect on the other hand is all about using the tools and technology of youth, from live chat hotlines to texting, working in the trenches peer to peer to intervene in a safe, productive way. Both orgs are fabulous and aligned as you can see by the partner page and resource sharing.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: How did you get involved with DVAM, can you give some background on October being an awareness-building designation and what types of plans you hope to achieve?

Elin Waldal: DVAM started as a “Day of Unity” in 1981, it was a way to gather individuals who were working tirelessly in the field. It has since of course blossomed into an opportunity to honor those who were tragically murdered, celebrate survivors, open up the conversation about DV and TDV, find solutions, focus on prevention and create much needed awareness. To this day the first Monday of October is recognized as The Day of Unity.

When I was a late teen I had no idea there were resources available to me–there may not have been many but they did exist. I met Derrick in 1980, I was 17. By the time we split up I was three months shy of my 20TH birthday and it was 1983. (Amy’s note: Derrick is the subject of her book, the perpetrator of the violence against her)

True there has been great progress in the DV field and now, with all the information available about stats on teens, it is a relief to know young people today have access to orgs like Love Is It’s such a positive side of technology knowing resources are a click away.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: In your work with Love Is Not Abuse you mentioned some college research showing 43% of women having experienced some form of abusive behavior (40pp pdf) that seems pretty high…who else holds the bounty of research in this realm and why are we only hearing about it more now?

Elin Waldal: Domestic violence has billion dollar implications taking a societal and human toll far beyond what statistics can put forth. As you know, being a media literacy person, data gets sliced in multiple manners, so the verbiage specifying the type of dating/abusive behavior is key, but yes…it’s thankfully coming to the attention of media more so we can start putting talking points and safety plans in place proactively. LINA has been carrying the torch to schools/colleges with curriculum for various ages, so are always speaking out and looking for action leaders to carry the message forward.

I know Break the Cycle has a ‘statewide report card’ point of research on their site too, and Futures Without Violence (formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund) has tons of CDC data and NCADV (2pg pdf factsheet/overview) and governmental data are easily sourced. (Amy’s note see resource list at end) But my point I want to make again and again is about the need to TALK about it…

We cannot find enough ways to create these important conversations with our kids.

My belief is DV/TDV are societal issues, the more we can look at it holistically, get our arms around root causes, support not only the victim but also the perpetrator, and their families, the closer we will get to ending the epidemic. I also feel engaging boys and men is vital; their voices are necessary and important as we strive for the creation of best practices and solutions. Needless to say It is Time to Talk EVERY day.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Do you think media depictions have contributed to violence against women? It seems there’s an escalation of misogynistic crud out there lately that’s off the chart horrific in its awfulness…

Elin Waldal: The whole “artistic license” debate about media messaging has turned into an ‘anything goes’ free-for-all that prompted me to create the video just to house the imagery in one place and get people thinking. The accountability and self rein just isn’t there. I’m not seeing it. I chose the Mad World soundtrack for a reason. 😉

As for roles in prevention and framing media messages, I still believe raising children void of gender stereotype bias will serve us well, as boys absolutely require the freedom of expression and the depth of their emotions…and girls without question need adults who see them as capable and strong versus dependent or fragile.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Do you feel marketing will take hold with ‘the color purple’ in the same way October is also pink think/breastcancer awareness month with all the marketing opps (ok, and copious quantities of ‘pinkwashing’ going on) since breastcancer was once a taboo topic too?

Elin Waldal: I know Mary Kay is doing that cause marketing “Beauty That Counts” program, but I just don’t see myself doing the buy a lipstick donate an extra one to violence against women kind of thing…I far prefer dollars funnel through media that matters like music (Rock the Purple, the Purple Ribbon Project) or education (or my book tie in!) but raising awareness to open up those conversations is key.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: On that note, I’ll close with how to participate in your Love Is Respect ‘read for a cause’ as I know Tornado Warning has unleashed some powerful whirlwinds of eye-opening conversations in our household…Here’s to funneling the money and awareness toward some great orgs!

Excellent Resources For Teen Dating Abuse Prevention

DV Hotlines/Resources

10 Warning Signs (LINA)

Love Is Respect

Love Is Not Abuse (List of Partner Links)

Break the Cycle

CDC Violence Prevention Homepage

CDC Dating Matters Initiative

CDC Violence Prevention PDF Download

The Respect

RespectRx Boss of Me

A Thin’s Over the Line (digital abuse/teen control)

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

See It and Stop It! Organization

Do Something Organization

LiveStrong: Teen Dating Violence

Love is Not (Liz Claiborne campaign)

APA: Teens/Love Doesn’t Have to Hurt (pdf) Cycle of abuse/DV; cause-effect

HSUS/Animal abuse & corollary w/domestic violence

Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness

The Safe Space

ALL NEW UPDATE: Circle Of 6 FREE app, winner of Apps Against Abuse Award “prevents violence BEFORE it happens”

A Few Watch-Worthy Parenting Tips (LINA site)

Your Teen:

•    Apologizes and/or makes excuses for his/her partner’s behavior.
•    Loses interest in activities that he/she used to enjoy.
•    Stops seeing friends and family members and becomes more and more isolated.
•    Casually mentions the partner’s violent behavior, but laughs it off as a joke.
•    Often has unexplained injuries or the explanations often don’t make sense.

The Partner:

•    Calls your teen names and puts him/her down in front of others.
•    Acts extremely jealous of others who pay attention to your teen.
•    Thinks or tells your teen that you, the parent(s), don’t like them.
•    Controls your teen’s behavior, checking up constantly, calling or texting,
and demanding to know who he/she has been with.

Related Reading by Amy Jussel, on Shaping Youth

The Bro Code: Media, Masculinity & Misogynistic Misfires

Attention KMart Shoppers, Dating Violence on Aisle 3

Depravity Gone Viral: A Thin Line For Humanity

Man Down? Girl Up, Rihanna. Own Your Influence.

What Does A 13-Year Old Boy Know About Dating Violence? Plenty.

Backdraft: DV=Differing Views on Dating/Domestic Violence

Predatory Practices As Sport? Boys to Men & Swaggerfests

Gender, Race & Sexism: Shaping Youth Through Pop Culture Cues

Talk to Me: Because Media Matters for Youth Outreach

Uplifting, Positive Picks for Youth Outreach:  Resource Roundup

Dear Media, Please Change Your Channel of Influence

Get Boys to Participate in GirlCaught to Dial Down Disrespect

Laramie Project: Using Media to Teach Tolerance (10yrs later)

Turning Boys Into Monsters: Energy Drink/A Foul Taste

Girls As Boy Toys Takes an Even More Toxic Turn

A Few Related Gender/Research Resources

Marketing Media Violence: CCFC Fact Sheet/pdf

Communities Against Violence Network: (CAVnet)

True Child: Masculinity, Bullying & Aggression

True Child: Fast Facts: Stats on Masculinity, Bullying & Violence

GuyLand: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men

Byron Hurt’s site for his film: Hip-Hop, Beyond Beats & Rhymes

Jackson The Macho Paradox, Tough Guise-Violence, Media & the Crisis of Masculinity & media literacy galore!

U.S.: Mens Anti-Violence Resources/Organizations (Men Can Stop Rape List: Including Athletes for Sexual Responsibility, MVP)

The Good Men Project: Gender & Sexuality Articles



  1. “No, he’s not abusive, he’s just a douche.” ha ha.. that was a good one! Are we allowed touse the word Douche here??

  2. “How is a teen supposed to sort out early on who’s “just a jerk’ from those who lurk, stalk, cajole and foul up a healthy sense of R-E-S-P-E-C-T?” — I have been pondering about that myself. It seems like teens nowadays have learned to accept and adapt to those that we used to consider as abusive and offensive. I will never be able to understand and more so, accept that frame of mind. Gone are the days when principles and prudence were of utmost importance. Thank you so much for this article. I will be sharing this in the hope that it brings awareness to everyone.

  3. Appreciate that, Justin…yes, you’re right, the lines are blurred. Seems like expectations have nosedived to where both genders underestimate the respect due (feelings, manners, general conduct). I’ve watched teens circle each other with such guarded, jaded, cynical, circumspect precision it’s almost as if they’re waiting for the inevitable ‘let down’ of disrespect so they serve it up in first strike form at times…saddens me. Thx for taking the time to comment…with awareness comes change.

  4. @Sapan #2 comment…Believe me I wondered the same…since I DO try to keep things PG —but hey, I figured if it’s on a prime time show and seeped into universal lexicon, I can play the media wildcard of attention-grabbing for a greater good to discuss the language to make a point, right? btw, you might ck out this one y on vulgar words/behavioral outcomes and social norming:

  5. Whether calling, texting, using social media or taking selfies, many teens barely go a few minutes without tapping away on their phone. here is the 10 secret codes teen use. These kids bring an array of dazzling new slang that leaves some parents none-too-hip, ya dig.

  6. Hi Jhon, thanks for the link above…I got 9 out of 10 and missed “zerg” sooooo…at least I’m still in the know for the most part. lol. Just attended the youth-led mental health summit in SF and I’m sure you’re aware some of the key anxiety issues swirl around some of these same topics, from reproductive rights going backwards and STI concerns to school shooting anxiety/eco/sustainability fears leading to hopelessness and ideations…Doing an updated story on Crisis Text Line soon so will hope to stay in the loop.

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