New data shows that young people between 14 and 20 are at a high risk for abusive relationships: over a third of teenagers in the United States have suffered some form of abused in their relationships, with 41% of girls and women and 37% of boys and men agreeing that they were somehow victimized in a relationship. It is chaos.

It’s a persistent question across eras: should teenagers should start dating in their early age, or wait until they’re older? According to this psychological data, teenagers are more likely targeted for sexually, emotionally, and physically abusive relationships. I spoke to current and former college students Haya Siddiqui and Lauren Berg about the rampant problem of relationship abuse to shed light on the report’s findings.

photo via bea on flickr

photo via bea on flickr

Siddiqui and Berg agreed that abuse happens in teen relationships for a variety of reasons, and that it’s not possible to find a single root cause for the problem. “[I think] teens at those ages are more abused because they are at that innocent stage,” said Siddiqui, a Northern Virginia Community College student. “They think the teen doesn’t know any better.” But that doesn’t mean that teens who face abuse won’t also face the blame: Siddiqui observed that blame for abuse can often be hard to pin down. “It can go to the parents of the teen or the abuser,” she said. The problem, however, is deeper than who to blame for the actual abuse. The real question, for me, is why is it happening at all?

Lauren Berg, who graduated from University of Virginia, noted that abusive relationships don’t occur in a vacuum: “I think there are several factors to consider when looking at where the problem begins,” she said. “Teenagers and young adults are influenced by everything around them, including their parents and other adult relationships, the media, and their own friends and peers.”

And what about after abuse? Surviving an abusive relationship is hard to handle for anyone. Reactions to it “can range from no feelings at all to even suicide,” remarked Siddiqui. The data supports her argument; with high levels of emotional abuse, suicide can often be a consequence to suffering through an abusive relationship, especially as a teen.

It appears important, then, to raise the issue and make teens aware of what abusive relationships are and how they can confront them. Berg feels those efforts are significant.  “I think it’s very important to bring this issue to light because teenage and young adult relationships set the mold for future adult relationships.” She added:

“Teenagers are learning how to be in a relationship and shaping their emotional maturity. If teenagers experience abusive relationships at such a young age, they are more likely to be in future abusive relationships as adults. Through education and preventive steps, teenagers can learn to have healthy relationships now and in their future adulthood. Teenagers and young adults should be more informed about relationships… Whether that information comes from parents, schools, or other adults, teenagers need more access to [it].”

The bottom line is as clear as water: whether you’re “mature enough” to date or not, abuse shouldn’t be a side effect of exploring romantic relationships as a teen. Together, we can come up with community-based solutions to this epidemic. And together, we must.