Leave site now >>

Teenage Relationship Abuse

Young people experience the highest rates of domestic abuse of any age group. 

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:

“Like when I’d be out with my friends and he’d drag me off and say he didn’t want me out any longer and I’d got to go in and it could be like half past six”.

SafeLives Children’s Insights data found that nearly all (95%) of young people experiencing intimate partner violence were female.

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

It is also important to remember that young people in same sex relationships can face added vulnerability. One study of 117 young people in same sex relationships found that a quarter of those questioned reported domestic violence [3].

Young people generally have a lack of experience 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 that might increase their understanding of abuse, 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.

Despite the high prevalence of abuse for this age group, the rate of referrals into support services and multi-agency risk assessment conferences (Maracs) is lower than the percentage they make up of the population.


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.

 You can download it here. 

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.

Research shows that young people are more likely than adult victims of abuse to be in a relationship with the perpetrator at the point at which they accessed support, and this must be taken into account in any risk assessments. 

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

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.

Films and Resources 

The Home Office have developed a national awareness raising campaign about abuse in teenage relationships. The site has lots of useful films and information; www.disrespectnobody.co.uk

Abuse in Relationships isn’t Always Physical 

Kim: The Movie 

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