What Is Digital Dating Abuse? - Part 1

What Is Digital Dating Abuse? - Part 1

The act of love is to say:
“I want you to be who you are."
The act of abuse is to say:
"I want you to be who I want you to be."
It is that simple.

~ James D. Gill

What is Digital Dating Abuse? What can teens do if they feel they’re in this sort of abusive relationship? And what can parents and educators do if they feel like the teen in their life is being abused in this way?

What Is Digital Dating Abuse?

Digital Dating Abuse is a form of verbal and/or emotional abuse. In a very basic definition, it is power control through digital means. The Digitizing Abuse project by Urban Institute found that many teens who were digitally abused by their significant others also suffered from other forms of abuse. Digital Dating Abuse is particularly prevalent among teens, signs can include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Telling you who you can or can’t be friends with on social networking sites.
  • Sending you insulting, negative, or even threatening emails, texts, Facebook messages, tweets, direct messages / personal messages, or other digital messages.
  • Using social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Snapchat, and others to keep constant tabs of where you are and who you might be with.
  • Putting you down in their own status updates.
  • Sending you unwanted, explicit pictures and/or demanding you send the same to them in return.
  • Pressuring you to send explicit videos or text messages.
  • Stealing or insisting on being given your passwords.
  • Constantly texting you and making you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone or you may be punished (“Where are you?” “Who are you with right now?”).
  • Looking through your phone frequently, checking up on your pictures, texts, and outgoing calls without your permission or demanding you give them access to your personal messages.
  • Tagging you unkindly in pictures on social media sites, such as Snapchat or Instagram.
  • Using any kind of technology (such as spyware or GPS in your car or on your phone) to monitor you and your whereabouts.

Why should Digital Dating Abuse be taken so seriously? According to the study by the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, twenty-six percent of teens in a romantic relationship said their partners had digitally abused them during the previous year using social media, email, and text messages. This issue of Digital Dating Abuse is not going away. In fact, it’s getting worse. Other interesting points from the study include:

  • Girls are typically more victimized than boys.
  • The most prevalent form of Digital Dating Abuse if tampering with a partner’s social media account.
  • Digital harassment is a red flag for other types of abuse.
  • Roughly 1 out of 12 teens report being both perpetrators and victims of digital abuse.
  • Victims of relationship digital abuse can include girls and boys, middle-school and high-school students.
  • Victims of Digital Dating Abuse aren’t limited to straight relationships.
  • Victims of Digital Dating Abuse rarely seek help from teachers or authorities.

Not only does Digital Dating Abuse impact a teen’s emotional health, but it also impacts their safety, learning, grades/school attendance, and can erode a teen’s sense of self-worth. Research indicates that teens who experience Digital Dating Abuse are more likely to be depressed, abuse drugs and alcohol, and/or attempt suicide.

Next week, we’ll be looking at what we can do to recognize, change, and prevent Digital Dating Abuse.


Smart Girl Society, Inc., is an Omaha-based nonprofit working to educate and inspire Smart & Confident girls, women, & families. Through educational workshops, civil outreach programs, and technology & social media research, we work with girls, parents, & educators to authenticity on social media and in real life. We educate how to remain safe on social media and how to avoid becoming a target of sextortion. We also inspire action for students to focus on their personal brand development, leadership, educational opportunities, and healthy social skills. Interested in learning more? Check us out!