Abusive Relationships: Get Help, Get Out!


A video from the Emmy award winning PBS teen series


Gr 7- college “Many teens think an abusive relationship is usually a guy hitting a girl and just beating her,” observes one of the many perceptive teens in this powerful program about abuse in adolescent relationships. What this young woman already knows, and viewers will soon discover, is that abuse comes in many different forms, and it can be hard to recognize at first. Teenagers of diverse backgrounds, including Native Americans, speak frankly about their experiences with dating violence. What makes this program particularly unique are the stories from a male victim as well as siblings and friends. The program is organized into sections that first raise awareness about how to identify abuse and then answers important questions.: What happens next? Why not leave? When did you realize? How do you get out? Who can help? Where do you go from here? What would you tell others? This program also raises awareness about the various resources available – teachers, counselors, friends, parents— and encourages bystanders to speak out.

“A winner for health classes and counseling sessions.” School Library Journal



Š       1 in 3 teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their partner?

Š       Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a break-up13% of teenage girls who said they have been in a relationship report being physically hurt or hit?

Š       1 in 4 teenage girls who have been in relationships reveal they have been pressured to perform oral sex or engage in intercourse?

Š       More than 1 in 4 teenage girls in a relationship (26%) report enduring repeated verbal abuse?

Š       Nearly 80% of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser?

Š       Boys can be abused too? Some research shows that males are hit by girlfriends as often as females are hit by boyfriends, although males are much less likely to sustain physical injury than girls and less likely to report abuse.  This issue is controversial, but the fact is that it is NEVER okay for anyone to hit anyone else.

How to Use this Program

Following are questions and answers for educators to use as discussion-starters with teens after viewing the video. 



An abusive relationship is based on one person trying to have power and control over the other.  The video starts out by making the point that while many people think of abuse as being mainly physical, often it is emotional and psychological.   What are examples the teens give of abusers using psychological and emotional tactics to gain power and control over their boyfriends/girlfriends?

§       Rae says her boyfriend was controlling about what she wore. He would not speak to her if she was wearing something he didn’t approve of. He would have his brother watch her to see where she went.

§       Maria said her boyfriend wouldn’t let her cut her hair. He would put her down and call her names so she felt no one else would want her but him. She began to believe that she didn’t deserve to be treated well.

§       Jamie, Matt’s sister, described how Matt’s girlfriend would insist he buy her expensive jewelry and said she was extremely jealous whenever Matt was around other girls.

§       Joanna, Sam’s friend, described how her boyfriend wouldn’t leave her alone, would call her constantly, alienate her from her friends and keep her from her school work.

(Sam’s doing poorly in school might increase her boyfriend’s ability to control her because it could decrease her sense of self-esteem and her independence.)


Further Discussion:

What are some ways you’ve seen people try to gain control over other people?

Is emotional abuse just as damaging as physical abuse? Can it be worse?



How did the teens describe the beginnings of their relationships? Did they seem abusive at first, or did the controlling behavior escalate over time? 

§       Maria says her boyfriend was nice at first. She felt he understood her and she really trusted him a lot.

§       Jamie says at first her brother Matt’s girlfriend was nice. Eventually Jamie started noticing her controlling behavior, but it took Matt longer to notice it because he loved her.

§       Joanna describes her friend Sam’s relationship by saying at first she thought Sam had met this great guy, but it wasn’t until the last three months of the relationship that the abusive behavior became apparent.


ISOLATION is a very common tactic that abusers use to separate their partners from their friends, family and other support systems. This makes their partners more likely to be dependent on them, more likely to believe what they say, and less likely to try to end the relationship. What are some examples the teens in this video give of their partners trying to isolate them from friends and family?

§       Maria’s boyfriend would call her cousins and friends names and say he didn’t want her to be around “people like that.”

§       Matt said his girlfriend didn’t like his friends, and Matt’s sister said his friends did not like his girlfriend because they saw that she didn’t treat him well. Eventually Matt’s friends “dropped out of the picture, so it was pretty much just her and me.”

§       Matt described how his girlfriend created a lot of tension between him and his mother. She would say things like “You and your mom fight a lot” and ask “Do you really love her? Do you really like being at home?”  She did this as a way of getting Matt to spend more time with her.  This made Matt question his relationship with his mother. He said it made him hate being at home and at times even made him hate his mother.

§       Katie says that she lost all her friends.

§       Joanna says Sam’s boyfriend alienated her from her friends.

§       Sandy’s boyfriend told her that her sister was trying to ruin their relationship.


Further Discussion:

How does isolation increase the abuser’s ability to control the person?



Why didn’t the teens in this video just end their relationships, even when they realized they were being mistreated?

§       In some cases the abusers had already manipulated them into thinking negatively about their friends and family members (part of the isolation tactic). When the friend and family tried to warn them and help them get out of the relationship, it just reinforced the negative things the abusers were saying about their victims’ friends and families. When Sam realized she was in trouble, she didn’t want to go to her parents because her parents didn’t want her dating her boyfriend in the first place.

§       Katie said she wasn’t being physically hurt at first, so she didn’t think it was abuse.

§       Maria’s abuse had a strong effect on her self-esteem and her emotional state. She said the abuse made her feel like “a little ant, that I was nothing” and she thought she deserved to be treated that way. She wound up very depressed and suicidal. 

§       Maria also said that after the abuse her boyfriend would “sweet talk” her, and that it was part of a cycle. (One stage of the “Cycle of Abuse” is called the “Honeymoon Phase.” This is a common tactic abusers use to “make up” after they are abusive in order to keep their victim from breaking up with them.)

§       Sandy said that at first it was only when he was drunk. He would say he was sorry, but then the psychological abuse would continue.

§       Matt tried to break up with his girlfriend but she became very upset and went to his classroom and pulled him out of class.  His sister Joanna said he went back out with her because he couldn’t have her stalking him and didn’t know how else to handle it. He also didn’t know where to turn for help because he had been alienated from his friends and family.

§       Maria said that twice she tried to defend herself but that it ended up worse.

§       Katie thought she couldn’t live away from boyfriend because he meant so much to her.

§       Rae said a part of her wanted to leave and another part of her didn’t.  She thought it would be impossible to get away from him because he knew where she lived, what she did, when her classes were, etc.

§       Sandy said she knew what her boyfriend was doing was wrong, but she didn’t want to tell anyone because they would tell other people, everyone would know, and her boyfriend would be mad at her.

§       Rae’s boyfriend threatened to commit suicide if she broke up with him.

§       Sam’s boyfriend cried and threatened to cut himself. 


Further Discussion:

Are drugs and alcohol an excuse for abuse?

§       Never. Many people use drugs and alcohol as an excuse for abusive behavior, but it is a myth that drugs and alcohol cause a person to be abusive. People are responsible for their behavior even when they are drunk or high.

§       Is there ever an excuse for abuse? Is it ever the abused person’s “fault?”

§       No. There is never an excuse for abusing someone else. There is nothing a person can do to “make” another person abuse them. Abuse is always one hundred percent the responsibility of the abuser.


Why is it so difficult to end an abusive relationship? There are many very complicated reasons people stay in abusive relationships.  Some common reasons are: Fear that the abuse will get worse if they try to end the relationship (often they have been threatened);  because they love their boyfriend/girlfriend and have hope that things will go back to the way they were at the beginning of the relationship, before the abuse started; they blame themselves for the abuse because the abuser has told them “you make me act this way”; because they are ashamed, embarrassed, or isolated from family and friends and don’t feel like they have anyone to turn to for help.


Are boys abused more than is commonly thought? Why can it be more difficult for them to get out or ask for help? (Matt talks about being “macho”)




How did the teens in the video finally take steps to end their abusive relationship?

§                Matt began to realize his girlfriend had been lying to him. When a peer education program on relationship abuse came to his school, he saw himself in one of the characters in the skit they did, and decided to get help to end the relationship.

§                Katie saw a video in her health class about relationship abuse.  She hadn’t realized there was anything wrong with her relationship before this, but seeing the video made her realized she was being abused. When she was ready to break up with her boyfriend, she created a safety plan with her counselor, which helped her plan out how and where to break up with her boyfriend safely.  She eventually got a protective order because her ex-boyfriend kept showing up at her school.

§                Sam finally sought help when she got really scared because her boyfriend called her and said he had a gun, and was cocking the gun over the phone. She told her friend Joanna, who said they needed to get more people involved. Sam finally told her parents and they got professional help.  Sam also told her boyfriend he needed help, and he eventually got counseling.

§       Rae saw a flyer on the wall in the bathroom describing relationship abuse, and she realized some of the things on the flyer applied to her, so she went to her school counseling office and got help. In the end, Rae transferred to a different school. Less than a year later, her boyfriend wound up killing another girlfriend.

§       Maria talked to several adults she trusted, and they helped her get counseling. A counselor helped her make a list of the good and bad parts of her relationship, and she realized there was more bad than good.  This helped her realize she needed to end the relationship.

§       Rae, Katie and Sandy went to a support group where they were able to learn from other girls who had been in similar situations and get the support they needed to stay out of abusive relationships.


Further Discussion:

What would you do if a friend or sibling were in an abusive relationship? Who could you talk to?

§       Elicit specific suggestions relevant to your community. Teachers/facilitators should provide resources for local domestic violence or teen relationship abuse hotlines or programs. For resources in your area, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.



§       Make a card or poster with a list of the emotional and physical signs of abuse, with names and numbers of people/places where teens can go for help. Post it at your school.

§       Develop skits about teens in healthy and unhealthy relationships. You can make up the characters entirely, or base them on the stories of the teens in the video. Make sure the skits include characters such as friends, family members or teachers who recognize the warning signs and help the teens get help. Perform the skits for classes or school groups, and provide information at the end of the performance about how students in abusive relationships can get help.

§       Research local organizations that offer help for people experiencing domestic violence or relationship abuse. Invite one of these organizations to speak in your class or other school event.



The U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-SAFE (TDD: 800-787-3224)

This hotline provides crisis intervention, education, safety planning, and referrals for counseling, shelters and legal services nationwide.


In the Mix Programs:

“Twisted Love: Dating Violence Exposed;” and “Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Recognizing Dating Violence”

Over 50 In the Mix programs of interest to grades 7–12 are available on other topics including: Ecstasy and Club Drugs, Coping after 9–11, Dealing with Death, Smoking Prevention, Sex and Abstinence, School Violence, Cliques, Drug Abuse, Teen Immigrants, Depression and Suicide, Gun Violence, Self-Expression, Self-Image and the Media, Sports Participation, Media Literacy, Activism, Alcohol and DWI, Getting Into College, School to Work Transition, Careers, Relationships, AIDS, Native American Teens and more.


VHS and DVD copies of programs can be purchased from Castle Works, Inc. and include performance rights. For ordering information and a complete catalog, visit www.inthemix.org or www.castleworks.com; email us at mail@inthemix.org or call 800 343-5540.  Visit us online at www.inthemix.org for guides, transcripts, video clips, schedules, lesson plans, and other resources.


Written by Kerry Moles, author of The Teen Relationship Workbook www.relationshipworkbooks.com                                                              

Copyright 2006 Castle Works, Inc.