Texting provides dangerous outlet for dating violence

After reading this article in The Washington Post about text message dating violence, I was immediately reminded of an episode of 16 and Pregnant in which Chelsea received the following text message from Adam, her on-again-off-again boyfriend and the father of her baby:

no i want u to feel like the most worthless stupid **** in the world u better beleive [sic] its so over for the rest of ourlives ya fat stretch mark bitch tell me where and wen [sic] to sign the papers over for that mistake

Despite the fact that Adam called her various obscene names and even called their child a mistake, she still got back together with him after this text message. On the reunion show, her dad mentioned that a few million people would be disappointed if they got back together again (by that time they were again broken up), referencing that the world knew of the text message abuse and would be judging her if she went back with him.

Unfortunately, most teenagers and young people don’t have the looming eyes of MTV’s viewers to keep them in check when it comes to texting. Without a camera to document and reveal the terrible text messages Adam sent Chelsea (her dad said on the reunion that the one shown on MTV wasn’t even the worst), who knows how much further their violent relationship would have escalated.

The fact that text messages are nonverbal and therefore can be kept private and hidden is just one reason they are so dangerous when it comes to dating violence. At least if a friend is talking to a significant other on the phone, you can listen and gage whether the conversation is escalating into dangerous territory. It’s a lot more difficult to do that when your friend is silently texting.

Texting also is a breeding ground for miscommunication — if you don’t answer your phone, you are suspect of ignoring or avoiding calls, because today’s youth expects your phone to be attached to your side at all times. Texts don’t have inflection or tone, so jokes can be misinterpreted or the wrong word might be typed into your T-9 before you realize you hit send. The smiley face turns to a winky face just by hitting the wrong button.

But beside the facts that texting allows for miscommunication and secretive communication, it allows for a whole new level of emotional abuse because, unlike the phone call that can be ignored, the text messages get to your phone regardless of whether you want to receive them or not.

I know on my phone, there is no option of “Do you want to see this text message or delete it immediately?” On my old phone, there was an option to read it immediately, but even saying “no” still meant that to delete it, you’d have to look at it. And, as the Post article says, many people feel obligated to reply — in today’s world of constantly being connected, it’s as if young people think ignoring the text is useless because it’s a given that you have your phone. Or perhaps it’s just difficult for some young people not to reply.

What also scares me is the potential for some significant others to use cell phones as monitoring devices — not just constantly texting to find your whereabouts and who you’re with, but enabling GPS tracking that is available on many new cell phones. Although “typically, the subscriber must give permission and the cell phone must be enabled for tracking,” I’m curious how easy it would be for someone to track a significant other’s location via cell phone.

Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about this technology. But if the plan is shared, and the person could gain access to the phone and turn on the GPS without the other party knowing, where does the “staying connected” aspect end? The dating violence brought about by cell phones only escalates, because instead of threatening text messages, the other party can also pinpoint your location using the cell phone that you likely keep by your side at all times.

In an abusive relationship, the abuser often becomes relentless about trying to stay in control — texting relentlessly is one way that abusers try to regain or maintain control, and the danger of texting shouldn’t be underestimated. Constantly being connected and endless texting are commonplace for young people today, which make the line between normal and excessive even blurrier to young people.

Some warning signs of dating violence that can be seen in text messages include extreme jealousy, controlling behavior, explosive anger, hypersensitivity, threats of violence, and the abuser trying to keep you isolated from friends and family. Click here for list of questions regarding dating violence, to which any answer of “yes” indicates abuse.

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