Teenage Relationship Abuse


Teenage relationship abuse is when there is actual or threatened abuse within a romantic relationship or a former relationship. One partner will try to maintain power and control over the other. This abuse can take a number of forms: physical, sexual, financial, emotional or social. This includes coercive and controlling behaviour.

The current UK definition of domestic violence includes incidences between people aged 16 or over, but it is important to note that violence and abuse can occur in relationships between children and young people at any age.

This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional


Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”

tra q


In April 2013 the domestic violence definition was strengthened to include coercive and controlling behaviour and to include victims aged 16 and over.

Teenage relationship abuse is covered by existing laws on specific offences like sexual assault, grievous bodily harm, stalking, and murder. It is covered through civil law to protect the victim/survivor and criminal law to punish the perpetrator.

In November 2012 the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was updated by provisions made in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, creating 2 new offences for stalking and stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm and distress.

During the teenage years, young people are influenced by a huge array of factors, which can increase vulnerability and risk. These can include; puberty and hormonal changes, wanting increased autonomy from family, peer pressure, body image and self esteem issues, the influence of the media, an increased capacity for cognitive reasoning etc.

An End Violence Against Women (EVAW) poll in 2006 also found 40% of young people had been pressured to have sex. An encouraging 95% stated that violence against partner was unacceptable and yet when given justifications, this figure dramatically decreased. For instance, 27% thought that it was ok for a boy to expect sex if a girl had been flirting with him.

Worryingly, 59% of young people in the EVAW study did not know how to advise their friends if they were worried about their relationship being abusive. AVA has produced a leaflet to help young people who are worried about their friends. You can download it here. 


These figures are taken from the NSPCC report: ‘Partner exploitation and violence in teenage intimate relationships’.

  • 33% of girls and 16% of boys reported some form of sexual abuse within their relationship
  • 25% of girls (the same proportion as adult women) and 18% of boys reported some form of physical relationship abuse
  • 75% of girls and 50% of boys reported some form of emotional relationship abuse
  • Young women who are being or have been abused are 4 to 6 times more likely than their non-abused peers to become pregnant during their teenage years. [1]
  • As many as two-thirds of young women who become pregnant as adolescents were sexually and/or physically abused at some point in their lives – either as children, in their current relationships, or both. [2]

Research has also identified that teenage relationship abuse is associated with a range of adverse outcomes for young people, including mental health, depression and suicide.

It is also important to remember that young people in same sex relationships can face added vulnerability. One study found that a quarter of 117 young people in same sex relationships reported domestic violence [3]. As well as the many myths that surround domestic violence in general, there are many more stereotypes that Lesbain, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Trans (LGBT) young victims may face which can make it harder for them to access services. Myths such as “abuse between people of the same-sex is ‘mutual’, so both are equally responsible for any abuse” or “if abuse occurs, the person experiencing domestic abuse and the perpetrator will ‘play-out’ heterosexual gender roles (for example, the abuser will be butch while the non-abusive partner will more feminine)” are extremely unhelpful.

Young people, have a lack of experience generally around forming safe relationships and may not realise that abusive behaviour is not ok.  Young LGBT people may have even less access to information and support to increase their understanding of abuse and they may not be linked into a supportive social network for example if they are not ‘out’ yet or if there is  a lack of specific local services.

Risk and protective factors

It is important to remember that risk factors are correlational and not causal. Some of these factors could be indicative of many things. We can look at risk factors as a way to guide prevention work, to identify people who could be at risk, and also as outcomes which may require intervention.

Some key risk factors are (and this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • Depression in childhood
  • Poor mental health
  • Problem drug and alcohol misuse from early age
  • School non-attendance
  • Disruption of family unit / being ‘looked after’
  • Sexual relationships
  • Having a child as a teenager
  • Poverty
  • Sexual exploitation and sexualised risk taking
  • Previous experience of violence in the home

Some research makes links between experiencing domestic violence as a child, and going on to become a perpetrator or a victim as an adult. This theory can place very negative judgements on children and young people growing up in a violent home. It certainly can increase a person’s vulnerability but it is not determinative and ignores that the vast majority of children exposed to domestic violence do not grow up to be abusers or victims in adulthood.


Abuse in Relationships isn’t Always Physical 


Kim: The Movie 

Other parts of Kim’s story (and accompanying resources) can be found here: http://www.kimthemovie.com/#title_watchfilm

KIM: BACK HOME from Latimer Creative on Vimeo.


  1. Saewyc, E., Magee, L. and Pettingell, S. (2004) Teenage Pregnancy and Associated Risk Behaviors among Sexually Abused Adolescents, Perspectives in Sexual and Reproductive Health 36
  2. Leiderman, S. & Almo, C. (2001). Interpersonal Violence and Adolescent Pregnancy: Prevalence and Implications for Practice and Policy. Washington, DC: Healthy Teen Network.
  3. Halpern, T. C., Oslak, S. G., Young, M. L., Martin, S. L. and Kupper, L. L. (2001) Partner violence among adolescents in opposite-sex romantic relationships: findings from the national longitudinal study of adolescent health, American Journal of Public Health