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Dating violence

Topics in
this section

1 Defining dating violence

2 The different forms of violence

3 How to support a teenager who confides in you

1 Defining dating violence

Generally, romantic and intimate relationships during adolescence are positive for most teenagers. They help them hone their communication and conflict management skills as well as learn more about themselves. However, some relationships may come with their share of difficulties and situations of violence.

This section will help you better understand teen dating violence and give you the tools to talk about it with your teenager.

Unfortunately, teen dating violence is a common phenomenon. Some teens are faced with violence in their first experiences with romantic and intimate relationships. However, contrary to when adults experience violence, teenagers don’t have the same tools or knowledge on the topic, and what’s more, this experience is a difficult one to go through, for both adults and teenagers.

Since teens are living their first romantic experiences, they don’t always have clear parameters to help them define what should be acceptable or not in a relationship. This may make it difficult for them to recognize the presence of violence in their relationship.

Les relations intimes et amoureuses à l’adolescence

Définir la violence dans les relations amoureuses et intimes

Indeed, teens are sometimes willing to do anything to maintain their romantic relationship and ensure it lasts forever. They tend to live in the present moment and sometimes have difficulty imagining a relationship with someone else. Teenagers may perceive their relationship as a form of success or achievement, as relationships are sometimes very valued in peer groups... which also makes them want to maintain the relationship.

It is therefore important to guide teenagers, whether they are the ones who are victims of violence or the ones perpetrating it. Don’t forget that teenagers are in the process of learning strategies to manage disagreements, developing communication skills, etc. As caregivers/trusted adults, you have the capacity to raise their awareness of this issue, to be there for them, to support them, and to provide guidance, in addition to having the opportunity to give them the tools to communicate effectively and manage disagreements.

In general, violent behavior doesn’t appear overnight: it develops slowly in the relationship. Violence can be committed by boys as well as girls.

définir violence

2 The different forms of violence

There are several forms of violence, none of which are acceptable. They can all lead to various consequences that may vary from one person to another.

When someone experiences violence, they may tend to give their partner the benefit of the doubt because they care for them. However, violence should never be tolerated.

Knowing the different manifestations of violence may help you be more aware of the behaviours that teenagers may experience or commit.

Les différentes formes de violence

Psychological violence

  • This is the most widespread form of violence.
  • This form of violence is one of the most trivialized in society, meaning that many consider it as less serious and leading to fewer consequences for victims.

One example of the trivialization of violence is verbal abuse, which is commonly normalized between friends (e.g., calling each other vulgar names). Minimizing the use of these expressions between friends makes them seem harmless when used in other contexts, such as in an intimate or romantic relationship, when they’re actually far from it.

A positive relationship brings a sense of safety and the freedom to be completely yourself. Psychological violence is not trivial, especially because it prevents this safety and freedom by making the person feel inadequate or like they can’t be trusted.

Examples of psychological violence

  • Criticizing everything the other person does
  • Embarrassing them in front of their friends or family
  • Criticizing the partner’s friends or family
  • Trying to isolate the partner from the important people in their life
  • Reading the partner’s texts, emails, etc.
  • Making fun of the partner, for example of their interests or the way they dress
  • Manipulating the partner, lying to them
  • Threatening the partner, for example, threatening to leave them or reveal their sexual orientation


La violence psychologique

A word on jealousy

Jealousy can manifest in different ways in a romantic relationship. It’s a normal feeling that can be experienced in various types of relationships (e.g., with friends or family), and it can be managed in a healthy way, namely by talking to your partner. However, jealousy can also become problematic and cause the jealous partner to act with violence.


Petit mot sur la jalousie

Sexual violence

Sexual violence is most often committed by someone the victim knows, for example, a friend or a romantic partner. This form of violence can lead to various consequences for the victims, no matter what their relationship is with the person responsible for the violence. It includes acts, gestures or words related to sexuality, whether there is physical contact or not, verbal or psychological, which are committed, threatened or attempted against a person without their consent, without their agreement.

In addition to sexual abuse, here are a few examples of sexual violence:

  • Engaging in sexual manipulation (e.g., If you really loved me, you’d want to…)
  • Threatening the partner to force them to engage in sexual activity
  • Spreading rumors about someone’s sexuality
  • Sending nude pictures without permission (or sending pictures of minors)
  • Practicing voyeurism or exhibitionism
  • Forcing someone to watch porn
  • Insisting and pressuring the partner to engage in sexual activity
  • Forcing unwanted sexual contact such as rubbing up on someone
  • Asking intimate questions to make the other person uncomfortable
  • Staring inappropriately and insistently at someone
  • Engaging in unwanted sexual touching or unwanted sexual intercourse
  • Making the partner use contraception X or, on the contrary, forcing them to not use contraception.

pistes de reflexion

Here is an important message to convey to teens:

Sexuality is a pleasure that can be experienced alone or shared with someone. When you want to share it, it’s important to make sure your partner really wants to: they must be free to choose what they do and don’t want to do, be equal, have the same rights, be able to stop whenever they want, and be enthusiastic to share these intimate moments.

Sexual violence resources

Sexual Violence Helpline, available 24/7: 1-888-933-9007

Helpline for sexual assault victims, women, men, children, seniors, their loved ones as well as people who work with victims. Bilingual, confidential and anonymous service covering the entire province of Quebec.

Quebec Coalition of Sexual Assault Centres (CALACS)


The CALACS are present throughout Quebec. They have three components of action: direct help and support for victims and their loved ones; prevention and awareness of sexual assault; and discussions, collective action and defense of rights

Crime Victims Assistance Centres (CAVACs)


The CAVACS are present throughout Quebec. They provide psycho-legal services to victims and witnesses of criminal acts as well as to their loved ones.

Marie-Vincent Foundation


The Marie-Vincent Foundation supports children and teenagers who are victims of sexual violence and their families. In addition to providing help to families, they focus on prevention and offer training to members of the health and social services network.

Help resources by region

Physical violence

Physical violence is the form of violence that is the most easily recognized as such. It is the one that most provokes reactions and is most often reported. This is partly because we can easily see it and observe it unequivocally.

Here are some examples of physical violence:

  • Hitting and pushing someone
  • Throwing things
  • Punching a wall
  • Slapping
  • Twisting someone’s arm
  • Threats of physical violence
  • Using force that can cause the victim injuries, limitations or other

Whether violence is physical, verbal, psychological or sexual, it is always unacceptable. The important thing isn’t adding up the number of violent behaviors, but rather reacting to any instance of violence. Reacting can mean talking about how you felt, questioning what you’re looking for in a romantic relationship, seeking help, questioning if the relationship brings happiness, and, sometimes, reacting can mean ending the romantic relationship.

la violence physique

A word on cyberviolence

Social media and the virtual world can bring many positive elements to teenagers’ lives, but some people can also use technology to exert control over their partners. Indeed, all the forms of violence described above can also take place online.

For example, sexting (sending messages of a sexual nature electronically) can be a source of threats and blackmail. It can also lead to the spreading of rumours about someone or the sending of pictures of a sexual nature.

Accessing someone’s social media accounts without their consent or demanding their geolocation to know where they are (e.g., accessible through the Snapchat app) are examples of phycological violence perpetrated virtually, and therefore constitute cyberviolence.


Cyberviolence resources


Warning signs of violence

All forms of violence can lead to changes in the habits of teenagers who experience violence or who engage in violent behaviors, as well as to their share of consequences.

Some teenagers have the tendency to isolate themselves from their family and friends. This can be perceived as a need for freedom, but sometimes this sudden “isolation” should be questioned. Others can get very irritated or angry when questioned about their romantic relationship. The topic can be very sensitive, or even taboo, among teens. Some will want to protect their partner, despite the fact that they can be violent, and say things like “It’s not their fault...” Avoiding introducing their partner to their family or getting annoyed when the family insists on meeting the partner can also be warning signs.

However, not all teenagers will exhibit noticeable or observable changes in their habits if they’re experiencing violence or engaging in violent behaviors. It’s important NOT to wait to see signs before questioning your teenager about their relationship. As caregivers/trusted adults, you can sometimes have a warning bell or a gut feeling that tells you something isn’t right. It’s important to trust and listen to yourself.

Les signes annonciateurs de la violence

How can such a dynamic develop?

Several answers are possible. It’s important to know that, in some cases, violent romantic relationships may include positive moments where the partners are happy together. These happy periods make the violence even more difficult to recognize.

Violence, no matter what form it takes, can be always initiated by the same person or alternate between partners. This dynamic is called “mutuality of violence”: both partners engage in violent behaviors.

  • One of the partners was violent and the other wants them to suffer a similar fate, out of revenge.
  • One partner wants to make the other understand that they don’t like the way they’re being treated, so they act the same way to make their partner understand to what extent it is unpleasant, painful, degrading, etc.
  • Both partners tend to initiate violent behavior during conflict management or to express their emotions or dissatisfaction.

Comment une telle dynamique peut-elle s’installer?

Does violence tend to recur?

Unfortunately, yes. Violent behavior is generally followed by apologies and a period of calm. In fact, this cycle is common: there’s an episode of violence, then apologies and remorse, followed by a positive “honeymoon period” between the partners, and then the violence begins again. Sometimes, the violence takes the same form and sometimes it manifests differently. Honeymoon periods make it harder for teenagers to identify the presence of violence in their relationship and to end it.

Some teenagers will engage in violent behavior only once, like a lapse in judgment. However, it is more common that teenagers are subjected to several episodes of violence at the hands of their partner.

Est-ce que la violence a tendance à se répéter?

The consequences of violence

The consequences of violence may vary from one person to another, and depend on each person, their experiences, their individual vulnerabilities as well as the events that occurred and their frequency. Other people’s reactions to a disclosure of a situation of violence may also have an impact, which is why it’s important to believe the person, to listen, and to react adequately. The consequences may also sometimes evolve over time and be visible or not. There is no standard profile, both for teenagers who perpetrate violence and those who experience it. The consequences can affect different spheres of life, such as mental, physical, emotional, social and sexual health. For example, victims of violence can suffer from anxiety, fear, have symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress, experience social isolation, relationship problems with their family and friends, academic difficulties, eating disorders or substance abuse problems, etc.

The first romantic and intimate relationships are usually an opportunity to develop negotiation, conflict management, and communication strategies. In a dynamic of violence, these lessons are not learned in an optimal way.

Les conséquences de la violence

3 How to support a teenager who confides in you

1. Believe them

Believing what your teenager is confiding in you is the most important point. Telling them that you believe them is essential, for example: “I believe you. You did the right thing talking to me about it.”

2. Listen and respect their pace

Take the time to listen to what your teenager wants to tell you, for example: “I’m sorry you went through that. Tell me what’s going on, I’m listening!” You may have the urge to ask a lot of questions; however, it’s preferable to give your teenager space, to respect their pace, and to accept that you don’t know everything: they’ll tell you what they feel like telling you.

3. Have a non-judgemental attitude

This includes validating your teenager’s experience, making sure they feel that their thoughts and emotions are legitimate and justified, no matter what they are.

4. Stay calm

This can encourage your teenager to confide in you, but also to listen to you. It’s completely normal that their story brings up emotions in you, but it’s crucial to focus on their emotions when they open up to you; you can take care of yourself after.

5. Alleviate their feelings of guilt

Tell them that it’s not their fault, that no matter what the situation, their partner shouldn’t have acted that way and doesn’t have the right to act like that. People who have experienced violent behavior often need to be heard.

6. Emphasize their strength and courage in opening up to you and talking about it.

It’s not easy to show vulnerability, to talk about difficult moments that make us sad, etc. Don’t hesitate to tell them that you’re proud of them for talking about it and that listening to their internal warning bells was the best thing to do.

7. Support your teen in the steps they want to take

It’s natural to want to suggest avenues for action and give advice. You’re an important role model for your teenager, but take the time to listen to their version, to what they want to do about the relationship. Help your teenager be an active agent of personal change and support their search for the solutions that suit them.

Note that even if you adopt all the right attitudes with your teen, the decision to end the relationship, if that is their decision, can take time. Teenagers often choose to stay in the relationship with their partner, despite the violence. For example, during the honeymoon period, some may forget that they needed help not so long ago. This may seem incomprehensible to you and contribute to feelings of powerlessness and frustration with the situation. It’s important to remain available to your teen, to keep the lines of communication open, and to continue to offer your support so that they can turn to you if they need to.

What if your teenager confides in you that they were violent towards their partner?

Your teenager can also experience negative emotions related to their behaviour, such as shame, powerlessness, and guilt. Your support in this case, just like your understanding and non-judgement, is just as important. Several of the tips above are also applicable, such as staying calm, listening, respecting your teenager’s pace, and emphasizing their courage in confiding in you. In addition, if your teenager is violent towards their partner, it is important to seek help or consult ressources.

votre jeune vous confie avoir agi avec violence envers son∙sa partenaire

What to do when you witness violence

1. Name what you observe

It’s better to stick to the facts rather than mentioning perceptions or impressions (e.g., “You never see your friends anymore.” vs. “You haven’t seen Alex in a few weeks, you don’t usually see each other so little!”). By naming facts and observations, you’ll avoid your teenager feeling judged and their response being that you’re exaggerating.

2. Share your concerns

“I observed this… I have to admit it worries me.” “Lately, I’ve noticed some changes in your habits, such as… and I’m worried. What do you think?” Sharing your concerns with someone is a good way to make them understand that you’re available and open to discussion.

3. Clearly state that violent behavior is unacceptable

It’s everyone’s responsibility to denounce the violence experienced by the people around us. By naming the facts you observe and by reporting them, you might help your teenager realize that what they’re living is unacceptable. This discussion can also be an opportunity to talk about the different forms dating violence can take, and that it is not limited to just physical violence.

4. Talk about positive, healthy and equal relationships with your teen

What is a healthy, positive and equal relationship for your teen? What are the positive things their relationship brings? What are their expectations and needs in a relationship? Are these met in their current relationship? For example, you can ask them: “According to you, is what you experienced part of a positive, healthy and equal relationship? Are there elements of your relationship that could be improved?” These questions may lead them to realize that their relationship is maybe not positive and doesn’t meet their expectations.

The situation your teenager is in may require more serious action. You can contact your teenager’s school staff, such as the administration, and specialized resources are also available to you (see the Resources section).


When the development and safety of your teenager is compromised, you are obligated to report the situation to the Director of Youth Protection (DYP).

Director of Youth Protection