Teens Rights in Your Dating Relationship

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You have many rights in your relationship with your girlfriend or boyfriend. You have the right to spend time with your friends and family away from your boyfriend/girlfriend. You have the right to talk with people of the opposite sex besides your friend. You have the right to say what you think and have your boyfriend or girlfriend take your opinion seriously. You have the right to suggest activities for your dates and turn down your date's suggestions. You have the right to say no to sex or anything you don't want to do. You have the right to say that you don't want to have dates in places where nobody is around. You have the right not to be abused.

How do I know if my relationship is healthy?
You can take the "healthy relationships test" which is also on this web site. If you answer yes to one of the questions, your relationship is not as healthy as you deserve. You deserve to be in a dating relationship where you feel safe and are treated with respect.

What is dating violence?
Dating violence is when the person you are dating abuses you physically or sexually.
Physical abuse is unwanted physical contact with your body that could hurt you or is meant to hurt you. Some examples are pushing, pulling hair, pinching, hitting, grabbing, kicking, holding you down, throwing things at you. Threats of hurting you also count as physical abuse, like threatening you with a weapon or getting ready to hit or slap you.

Sexual abuse is when your partner forces you to have sex or do anything you don't want to do sexually. Some examples are unwanted kissing or touching, doing things sexually with you after you say no, rough sexual activity, and date rape.

Sexual abuse and physical abuse are crimes. Your partner does not have the right to do these things to you.

What can I do if my partner has abused me?
You can end the relationship. How you leave or end the relationship will depend on your own situation. Trust your instincts. Keep important phone numbers with you all the time, like the domestic violence hotline numbers (1-800-942-0333 or 1-800-799-SAFE). Create some code words or phrases that you will use with family or friends when you are in immediate danger so that they can call the police or take other action to help you. You should think of a list of safe places where you can go if you are in danger.

Soon after it happens, you can call 911. If your partner has been physically abusive, the police should arrest him/her when you call.

You can get a protective order from the court to make your partner stop abusing you. The order will also make your partner stay away from you.

What is a protective order?
A protective order is also called a no-contact order or a restraining order. A protective order is a paper signed by a judge that orders things to help protect the person who was abused. It can order an individual to stay away from you or to move out of the house if you were living together. It can order someone not to call you, write you letters or notes, or give you messages through friends. If the person does not follow the order, he/she can be arrested immediately.

There are two laws that may give you a civil protective order: Domestic Abuse Act and Sexual Abuse Act. The Domestic Abuse Act gives you more options if you have children together or are living together. The Sexual Abuse Act is better if you don’t have a dating or other kind of intimate relationship. More information on the Sexual Abuse Act can be found here.

Under the Domestic Abuse Act, you need two things to get a protective order. The first is physical or sexual abuse. Remember that it can be threatened abuse.

The second thing you need to get a Domestic Abuse protective order is a special relationship to the person who is being abusive. One of these things must be true about you and your partner: you have dated or been in a romantic relationship together (not necessarily sexual), you have a child together, you have lived together in the last year, or you are married to each other. If you are in a dating relationship with someone of the same sex, you can get a protective order against your partner. If you don’t have that special relationship, then you should consider a protective order under the Sexual Abuse Act. There are different forms for each Act. The procedures are similar under both Acts. Click here for information on the Sexual Assault Act.

Can I file for a protective order on my own?
Unless you are at least 18 years old or emancipated, you probably need a parent or adult guardian to help you file the case. If they can't or won't help you, you might be able to have another adult help you or you might be able to file on your own. You can call Iowa Legal Aid on your own even if no adult is willing to help you.

How do I get a protective order under the Domestic Abuse Act?
To get a protective order, go to the courthouse or shelter in your county. You should ask for a "Petition for Relief from Domestic Abuse." The petition is a few pages of paper. It asks simple questions about what happened.

Once you fill out the petition, you give it to the clerk at the courthouse. It does not cost anything to file it.

What happens once I file the protective order?
The judge will probably talk to you briefly on the day that you file the petition. The judge will decide whether to give you a temporary order that goes into effect right away and lasts for 5 to 15 days until the hearing. The defendant (the person who is abusing you) will not be at the courthouse when you get this order.

The sheriff will deliver the papers you fill out and the temporary order to the defendant. The temporary order will show the date for the hearing when you both need to come back to the courthouse.

Can I get an attorney?
If the person who is abusing you is 17 or younger, the case will be heard by a juvenile court judge and the person will have an attorney. You should try to have an attorney too, but you can go to the hearing without one. You can call Iowa Legal Aid and ask for an attorney for the hearing. Iowa Legal Aid tries very hard to represent victims in domestic violence cases.

What happens at the hearing?
On the day of the hearing, the judge will decide whether to give you a "permanent" order that lasts for one year. You get to tell the judge what happened. The defendant will tell the judge his side of the story. If you have people who saw the abuse or other evidence, like photos of bruises or medical records, you should bring them to the hearing. Your immigration status does not matter and you should not be asked about it.

The judge will then decide whether to issue a permanent protective order. Even though it is called a permanent order, it will only last for one year. If you need it for more than one year, you will need to go back to court to ask the judge to extend it.

Will other people find out that I got a protective order?
You can ask the judge to seal the court file. This means that nobody except for you and the other party (the abuser) can look at the file. But you can't keep a person from telling people that you got a protective order against him. The police will also need to know about the order.

What else can I do besides getting a protective order?
Call a domestic violence hotline.
You can call a domestic violence hotline toll free (see the numbers listed above). You do not have to give your name. They will keep your call a secret. You can talk to them about the abuse. They might have some ideas to help you, or they can just listen.

Call the police.
It may be the case that another person will not respect your wishes when you tell him to leave you alone. If he keeps calling you or following you, you can call the police and ask them to bring harassment or stalking charges.

Tell your school.
If you and the other person go to the same school, ask a teacher, counselor, or principal if your school can take action against him. They might put him in a different class to make sure that your class schedules are not the same, or they might transfer him to a different school. You might be able to transfer to a different school if you want to.

Stay at a shelter.
Call your local domestic violence or youth shelter and ask if you can stay there. Some adult shelters will not allow teens under 18 to stay there without a parent. But if you have been living with your partner, living on your own, are emancipated, or have children of your own who live with you, you might be able to stay at a shelter. The shelter can give you a safe place away from a person who is being abusive.

Talk to a counselor.
There are counselors at your school. Your parents' insurance might pay for a private counselor. Some private counselors will accept Title 19 or Medicaid insurance. A counselor can help you figure out if your relationship is right for you and can help you think about how to have healthy relationships in the future.

How can I tell if my friend is being abused?
Look for clues that your friend's relationship is violent. Does she:

  • Tell you that her boyfriend doesn't like her to
    spend time with her other friends?
  • Talk about the way that her boyfriend is controlling or jealous?
  • Have bruises or other injuries?
  • Miss school or drop out of activities?
  • Avoid eye contact and have trouble making decisions?
  • Cry for no apparent reason?
  • Overreact to minor things?
  • Start using drugs or alcohol?
  • Talk about his bad temper?

Your friend may not tell you that she is being abused, even if you ask her. She might be embarrassed. She may blame herself for the violence. She might act like the violence is nothing or like it will go away. She may be afraid that the person who is abusing her will get more violent if she tells someone. She might be afraid of breaking up with him and not having a boyfriend.

How can I help my friend if I think she is being abused?
Encourage her to talk to you. Say, "You look upset," or "I'm here if you want to talk." Let her know that you will not tell any other kids what she tells you. If you decide you need to tell an adult what she tells you, tell her if you are going to do that.

Ask her questions. Listen to her without judging her. Help her recognize that what is happening to her is not part of a normal relationship. Let her know that jealousy is not a sign of love but of control. Tell her that she deserves to be treated better.

Do not tell her that she provoked him or ask what she did to cause the violence. Do not talk to her boyfriend and her together about the violence. Do not talk to her boyfriend without her permission, or you may jeopardize her safety.

Listen to her and support her efforts to make decisions about what to do. If she decides to stay in the relationship, don't tell her that she's wrong, but do tell her that you are worried for her safety and help her see the risks of staying with him. Let her know that whatever she decides, you will be there to support her.

Encourage her to talk to adults about the abuse to get help. Give her the phone number for a domestic violence hotline.

Do not assume that you know what is best for her. Do not turn your back on her if she doesn't take your advice.

What should I say to my friend if he has abused his girlfriend?
Ask him about specific behaviors he has that are abusive and controlling, such as accusing his girlfriend of cheating on him or being possessive. Point out that these are controlling acts and are not acts of love.

Ask him about specific violent incidents like grabbing her or threatening her. He might need help seeing what he did as violent acts. Tell him that you don't believe hitting a girlfriend is the way to deal with conflict. Don't use violence or threats to communicate your point.

Support him for talking about his violence. Tell him it takes courage to face his problems. Tell him it's okay to feel angry, but he has to come up with new ways of expressing anger that are not violent. He is not a bad person but he has bad behavior and needs to find ways to deal with anger and get along in relationships. Help him think of ways to deal with anger, such as taking time to cool off and then talking about it, or deciding to end the relationship.

Help him see the negative consequences of his actions. Ask him if his violence helps his girlfriend feel closer to him. Help him realize that he is not going to get the respect, trust, or love that he is looking for from the relationship unless he stops acting in hurtful ways.

Tell him that the abuse will probably happen again. He might be sorry and swear that it will never happen again. Remind him that being remorseful is not enough to lead to change. Refer him to a guidance counselor, pastor, doctor/nurse, psychologist, or teacher. He needs to talk to someone who will give him ideas about how to handle his feelings.

Don't assume that he will get help or that one talk was enough to make him change. Follow through with him.

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at iowalegalaid.org
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org.   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.
Last Review and Update: Mar 14, 2023
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