How Young People Can Learn the Signs of Relationship Abuse and Know When to Help

Ann Tran
Deeds Not Words
Published in
3 min readJan 4, 2020

Trigger Warning: Abuse, Violence

Earlier this year, a good friend broke-up with her long-time boyfriend. After a couple of drinks one night, she began crying, wiping away tears that streamed down faster than she could speak.

“He was so mean to me,” she said, “and I always forgave him. I didn’t know it was toxic.”

She hovered over her phone consistently, wanting to apologize for ending things and for the abrupt way in which she had cut him out of her life. It wasn’t her fault for having been a victim, nor was leaving the relationship.

We, as young people, need to educate ourselves and others about the signs of abuse in a relationship. After hearing my friend’s situation involving her partner, I wanted to know: How can I, as a friend, do better to spot these signs in my loved ones?

Relationship abuse (also called intimate partner violence, domestic abuse, or domestic violence) is intentional violent or controlling behavior by a person who is, or was, in a relationship with the victim. Some of these behaviors can include inflicting physical injury, progressive social isolation, sexual assault, and/or psychological abuse. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender can be a victim of abuse.

Abusive relationships don’t just affect “older adults”. According to dating statistics provided by advocates at loveisrespect, girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national average. Additionally, young victims are more likely to experience abuse from an intimate partner (61%) than an ex-intimate partner (30%). College students are also impacted. Nearly half (43%) of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors, but a striking 57 percent say it is hard to identify and 58 percent admit they don’t know how to help someone who’s experiencing it. It’s important for young people to not only recognize the signs of abuse in personal relationships, along with learning how to seek help when you or someone you know is facing violence in their relationships.

Some signs of an abusive relationship, like bruises on the body, are easy to notice. But other forms of emotional abuse, like gaslighting, social isolation, and blaming, are harder to see. Gaslighting is a mentally harmful form of abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner more power and control. In today’s modern world, technology can also be a factor in digital abuse, which employs texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk, or intimidate a partner. Often times, the victims of abusive relationships miss the signs of toxicity in these situations, which can lead to more issues in the long term.

But intimate partner violence doesn’t just occur to women, however. In 2013, the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that out of a sample of 16,000 U.S. adults, 26 percent of homosexual men, 37.3 percent of bisexual men, and 29 percent of heterosexual men had been a victim of intimate partner violence. The suicide of a Boston College male student on May 20, 2019, after months of psychological, physical, and verbal abuse by his girlfriend sparked conversations on partner violence occurring to men, challenging gender-based stereotypes about the usual victims and perpetrators of violence and abuse.

So how can youth and adults spot the signs of an abusive relationship? The Power & Control Wheel created by the National Domestic Violence Hotline can us visualize some of the most prevalent forms of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse that can occur in relationships. If we, as youth, are educated and are able to educate others on recognizing these signs in our own relationships and others’, we can leave the very people that hold us back.

If you, or someone you know, is a victim of domestic abuse, resources and help can be found by calling 1–800–799-SAFE (7233). Individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing may use TTY 1–800–787–3224. Additionally, advocates who are Deaf are available 24/7 through the National Deaf Hotline by video phone at 1–855–812–1001, Instant Messenger (DeafHotline) or email (

Art Illustration by Lydia Ortiz/Teen Vogue.



Ann Tran
Deeds Not Words

I am an undergraduate senior and Deeds Campus Organizer at TCU.