System Barriers Facing Teen Dating Violence Survivors

System Barriers Facing Teen Dating Violence Survivors

March 2, 2016

Written by the Northwest Network of LGBT Survivors of Abuse

Many domestic violence survivors are reluctant to use the criminal justice system[1]. In our work with LGBTQ youth survivors of domestic, dating and sexual violence, the Northwest Network has uncovered significant barriers for youth experiencing violence to reaching out for and receiving help. In spring 2015, the Northwest Network conducted a needs assessment as a part of Queer Collaborations (Q-Lab), a project addressing teen dating violence. The Q-Lab needs assessment examined supports available to youth survivors of violence in Washington State. Results of the assessment identified two primary barriers in meeting the needs of youth survivors: mandatory reporting and access to confidential services.

We asked youth serving organizations if they would make a mandated report if a 16 year old client shared with them the following hypothetical experiences:

Figure 1. Whether youth agency staff would report hypothetical scenarios (n= 21)figure 1 showing hypothetical experiences

The answers to this and subsequent questions highlighted a profound confusion about not only the letter of the law regarding mandatory reporting, but also appropriate practices and procedure regarding reporting for front-line staff. Qualitative data gathered helped explain the lack of consistency and knowledge about agencies’ reporting practices. When asked to explain why they would or would not report each scenario, domestic violence agency staff often cited their understanding of mandatory reporting laws. The understanding of these laws differed dramatically across staff and organizations. Below a small snapshot of the varied understanding of these laws:

“For us - a mandatory report could not be triggered if the 16 year old didn't give us names.”

“I thought it was only a mandated report if someone in authority was abusing the child, like parent, teacher or other adult.”

“It depends on whether they live together or if this is a dating relationship.”

“My understanding is that any physical violence toward a minor is a mandated report.”

“Depends on the nature and severity of the injury.  If this is a transitory injury I probably would not report this.”

“We would not report a child unless they were being abused or neglected by a family member as CPS has no jurisdiction over non-family perpetrators”

As an organization that is by and for LGBTQ communities, we understand the importance of hearing directly from survivors about the impact of mandatory reporting policies and practices on help-seeking behavior. During May and June 2015, the National Capacity Building Learning Center on Domestic Violence in LGBTQ Communities partnered with the National Domestic Violence Hotline to explore the impact of mandatory reporting on help-seeking for domestic violence.

This survey highlighted the significant impact that mandatory reporting policies and procedures have on help-seeking behavior. Over 1 in 3 (34%) participants said they have not asked someone for help for fear the person would be legally required to report what they shared. When focusing on youth experiences of domestic and dating violence, this reluctance to seek help because of fear of being reported became even more significant; nearly half (48%) of people under 18 years old said they did not seek help from someone for fear of being reported. This was finding was significantly higher compared to participants from all other age groups.[2]

Figure 2. Percentage of people who said that they did not reach out for help because of fear of mandatory reports


Percent of people who said they did not reach out for help

As highlighted by these findings, the lack of clarity around confidentiality and mandatory reporting practices has a significant impact on help-seeking for youth under the age of 18. More work is needed to support all people who intersect with youth experiencing domestic and sexual violence to build youth and survivor centered reporting practices. It is also critical to advance policies that center the needs of LGBTQ youth survivors of violence and mitigate the many potential harms of interacting with systems not designed to meet their needs.  For more information, further recommendations and to see both of the full reports:

Queer Collaborations Needs Assessment:

“There’s no one I can trust”: The impact of mandatory reporting on help-seeking and wellbeing of domestic violence survivors


[1] 1 The National Domestic Violence Hotline (2015). Who will help me? Domestic violence survivors speak out about law enforcement responses. Washington, DC.

[2] < .001,  p< .001 and  p< .001, respectively


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