As a teenager, you are starting to make more of your own decisions and discovering your own sense of identity. As a result, this is a time period that usually involves experimentation in sexuality, drugs, and relationships, and the influence of your peers and adults outside of your family increases as you navigate these experiences. This means that you will need to keep your own personal safety in mind more so than ever before. This guide is meant to bring attention to some of the circumstances you might find yourself in that jeopardize your safety, and offer some suggestions on how you can prevent these things from happening and/or how to deal with them if they do.

HEALTHY VS. UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS

Relationships, either romantic or friendly, are part of every human’s life and cannot be avoided. We are social creatures that crave attention and bonding from others. It is important therefore, to determine when a relationship could be healthy and helpful to you, and when a relationship could be harmful. The following are characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships.

HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS:

  • Have boundaries. In a healthy relationship, you can go out with your friends without your partner tagging along and participate in activities and hobbies you like regardless of whether your friend or partner enjoys them too. In a healthy relationship, you don’t have to share passwords to your email, social media accounts or phone, and you don’t have to call or text your partner every hour to let them know what you are doing.
  • Are respectful. If something is bothering you, in a healthy relationship you can talk about it instead of holding it in and the other person will listen to your concerns. If you disagree on something you should be able to come up with a compromise that doesn’t leave either person feeling like they have been walked over. Your partner’s wishes and feelings have value just like yours do; try to solve conflicts in a fair and rational way.
  • Are supportive. Friends and partners offer reassurance and encouragement to each other. Healthy relationships are about building each other up, not putting each other down. This means that your partner or friend is there for you when you need a hug (for example, if you found out your parents are getting divorced) but are also there to celebrate with you when things go well (for example, when you get a lead role in a play or land your first job).

UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS:

  • Involve mean, disrespectful, controlling, or abusive behaviour. This includes things such as verbal insults, mean language or tone (speaks to you in a way that makes you feel stupid or unworthy), nasty putdowns (“you’re ugly,” “no one else would date you,” “why are you even still alive?”) physical abuse (hitting, pushing, slapping) and/or forcing you into sexual activity.
  • Are exploitive. When intimacy and/or sexual behaviour is involved, unhealthy relationships occur when one person is much older than the other (more than 2 years for those under 16, and more than 5 years older for those between 16 and 18 years of age), or when one person is in a position of authority or influence over another (for example, between a coach and an athlete, a teacher and a student, an adult employer and a teenaged employee).
  • Occur when any of the following happen: your partner/friend gets angry when you don’t drop everything for him or her; he/she criticizes the way you look or dress; keeps you from seeing friends or from talking to any other guys or girls; wants you to quit an activity, even though you love it; ever raises a hand when angry, like they are about to hit you; tries to force you to go further sexually than you want to.

These are some basic characteristics healthy and unhealthy relationships that you should keep in mind. The next few sections will talk about specific situations where relationships are, or can become, unhealthy.

STALKING & CYBER STALKING

Sometimes, a person may wish to develop a relationship with another person or wish to continue a relationship, without the other person returning those feelings. In these cases, habits of stalking (also known as criminal harassment) may arise, which involve following, harassing and/or contacting someone without their consent or permission on a long term basis. Under Section 264 of the Criminal Code of Canada, criminal harassment is described as  repeatedly following from place to place a person or anyone known to them (such as a family member); repeatedly communicating with, either directly or indirectly the other person or anyone known to them; watching the home, or place where the person, or anyone known to them, lives, works, carries on business or happens to be; or engaging in threatening conduct directed at the other person or any member of their family.

Some examples of stalking would include: following you home from school, waiting outside your house or school, writing unwanted notes or letters repeatedly, hacking email accounts, texting constantly, phoning or visiting constantly without permission, sending unwanted gifts, sending written or verbal threats, vandalizing property, belongings, etc. Any of these behaviours perpetrated via the internet would also fall under the category of stalking (for example using web cams to watch you without your permission or sending repeated emails). Victims of stalking often feel violated, unsafe and threatened. Since stalking is a very personal attack (the stalker can show up anywhere and knows personal information about the victim), it can be very scary and emotionally draining. If you are being stalked or cyber stalked, make sure you tell a trusted adult, keep all of the evidence of the stalking (i.e. emails, phone records, etc.) and contact the police.

PARTNER ABUSE

Abuse in a relationship can occur at any age, and teens are no exception to this experience: approximately 9% of high school students have reported being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Partner abuse is a characteristic of an unhealthy relationship and can include physical, psychological/emotional, or sexual violence, and stalking. Part of what makes dating violence so confusing for those involved is that love is involved. You may feel like even though your partner abuses you, you still love them and they say they still love you. This can make it hard for you to tell if you’re really being abused, if you need help, or if you should end the relationship.

If you think you might be being abused or are unsure how healthy your relationship is, talk to your parents, a school counsellor, teacher, or even a police officer. You should know even if your partner says that they love you, they do not have the right to abuse you. If a person really loves you and cares about you, they do not hit you, call you names, or make you feel worthless. No matter how much you want it to work out or how many times your partner says the abuse won’t happen again, abuse is part of an unhealthy relationship and you should start working on ending the relationship as soon as possible.

ONLINE RELATIONSHIPS

Virtual relationships have all the appearances of real relationships: they include connectedness, communication, and sharing. However, these relationships are missing essential elements that distinguish them from flesh-and-blood relationships; such as three dimensionality, facial expressions, tone of voice, clear emotional messages, body language, physical contact, and pheromones. These aspects of real relationships are important to help you determine the “whole picture” of a person and make informed judgements about what kind of person they are, what kind of relationship you want with them, or whether you want one at all.

When people share information online about themselves, they tend to present themselves in ways that are at minimum, slightly more positive than is true and at maximum, entirely distorted and false representations of who they are. In this way, online posters can control the impression they give to other people about who they are, and because this is done virtually, recipients of the information are not in a position to really test what they see, read, and hear.

Due to the ease in which it is possible to manipulate information online, you need to be aware that the people you are interacting with online are not always who they say they are. A sixteen year old female who says she goes to the same high school as you may actually be a 36 year old male from the next town or neighbourhood. This is why it is important to never share personal identifying information online with anyone you have not personally met before, and if you do decide you want to meet someone you met online, make sure you do so in a public area, bring along a trusted friend (or better yet, an adult) and tell at least two other people where you are going, with whom, and when you expect to be back. It is also important to never share photos (especially sexually explicit photos) online, as you don’t know who exactly may be looking at them or who they will be shared with.

RELATIONSHIPS WITH PARENTS / GUARDIANS

As a teenager, your relationship with your parent(s) or guardians is likely to become strained; you want to gain more independence and make your own choices, and they want to make sure you are safe and that you don’t do anything to get yourself in trouble. These two goals tend to clash, and so it is up to both parties to compromise where possible and accept that each will have to give a little to get a little. You should know that generally, parents and guardians are there to set boundaries, teach you values and skills that will help you get through life, help you to use good judgement, and to generally be concerned for you. In order for you to have a good relationship with your parents, there has to be a way for you each to communicate with each other and respect each other’s differing views. Try to remember that your parents have gone through the same stages as you have, and are coming from a lifetime of experience when setting rules and boundaries for you. When you get into a fight with your parents try to see things from their point of view and why they might be worried about what you are doing. Good relationships with parents include mutual respect, understanding, trust and concern.

Sometimes however, relationships with parents can be unhealthy and enter into the realm of abuse and/or neglect. If you are being physically, sexually or emotionally abused by one or both of your parents/guardians, it is important that you tell another trusted adult about what is going on. This might be a teacher, school counsellor, friend’s parent, religious leader or, even better, a police officer or a child protection worker. If your parents are hurting you, there are lots of people and resources out their now to help you get out and/or support you in repairing your relationship; all you have to do is ask for them. If you think you are being abused but aren’t sure, you can also talk to these people to help you understand your situation better and decide what you should do. You should know that if one of these people feels you are in danger at home, in most provinces they are legally responsible to report their suspicions to your local child protection agency. If you want to talk to someone anonymously about any abuse or neglect you are going through at home, agencies like Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) or the National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-422-4453) are good places to get advice.

RELATIONSHIPS WITH PEOPLE IN POSITIONS OF TRUST / AUTHORITY

A person in a position of trust or authority is anyone who has the power to tell you what to do in some capacity, such as a coach, teacher, parent, doctor, older sibling, counsellor, or employer. As a teenager, you are starting to have greater autonomy in your daily activities and are more responsible for your interactions with these types of people. In most cases, the influences of these people (who are usually adult) are positive: the coach who trains you to become a serious competitor, the music teacher who helps you to play an instrument, the teacher who encourages you and helps you to study, or the leader of a community program who supports you in meeting a goal.

Sometimes, the relationships you have with these people can become more than that of “mentor and student” however, and may enter into the realm of romantic or intimate. It is important to know that regardless of your current feelings about the relationship, you cannot legally consent to a sexual relationship with a person in a position of authority unless you are over the age of 18. Stated another way, if a person is in a position of authority or trust over you, it is against the law for them to engage in sexual activities with you if you are under the age of 18, even if you say it is ok. This is because the relationship involves an imbalance of power in which the person in a position of authority can manipulate and/or coerce you into sexual activity (even if you don’t feel like you are being manipulated or coerced).

A good way to tell if someone in a position of authority is manipulating you or taking advantage of you is if they ask you to keep the relationship a secret. If someone in one of these positions has tried to engage in sexual activity with you, you should tell a trusted adult immediately and go to the police; you may not be the only person they have tried this with.

CONSENT

30% of teenagers aged 15-17 and 70% of teenagers 18-19 have had sexual relationships, which means that just as many have had to tackle the consent issue regarding sex and many more in relation to other sexual activities. Consent, as defined by Section 153.1 (2) of the Criminal Code, is the voluntary agreement of a person to engage in a sexual activity, and refers to the age at which a young person can legally consent to sex. In Canada, the age of consent is 16 years of age. This means, that if you are under this age, you cannot consent to sexual activity with a person except in the following circumstances: first, a young person 14 or 15 years of age can consent to sexual activity with someone less than 5 years older than them, and second, a young person 12 or 13 years of age can consent to sexual activity with someone less than 2 years older.

If you are older than 16 years of age, it is legal to have sexual contact with someone who is 16 years or older if they agree. However, the law states that no person under the age of 18 can consent, in any circumstance, to sexual activity if the other person is in a position of authority or they are dependent in some way on that person; it involves exploitative activity, such as prostitution or pornography; or they are paid (or offered payment) for sex.

It is important to know that when a person is intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, they cannot consent to engaging in sexual activity: under the law, if you are drinking or high on drugs, it is presumed that you did not consent to any sexual activity that took place. The Criminal Code also outlines other situations in which consent is presumed not to be obtained. These include: the consent is expressed by a person other than the person who will be engaging in the sexual activity, the person is incapable of consenting to the activity (because they are intoxicated, do not speak the same language, do not have the cognitive ability to express consent, etc.), their words or conduct expresses a lack of agreement to engage in the activity (for example, they didn’t say “no” but shook their head), or they consent to engage in sexual activity but then expressed, by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to continue to engage in the activity.

It is important to also know that it is not an excuse or explanation for sexual assault if one person believed the other person consented to sexual activity, if that belief arose from their own self-induced intoxication or wilful blindness (they chose to ignore any signs that the other person was not consenting or not able to consent). Remember, if you are going to engage in sexual activity, make sure your partner says yes. If you engage in sexual activity without the other person’s express consent, you are committing sexual assault.

DATE RAPE

Date rape is one of the more common types of sexual assault that teens experience. It is any non-consensual sexual activity between two or more people who know each other, such as between friends, boyfriend and girlfriend, study partners, people who meet at parties, etc. This type of sexual assault usually occurs when one or both of the people have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs voluntarily. Because these crimes usually occur in situations where drugs and alcohol are being used, many teen victims are reluctant to report date rape due to their own illegal activity at the time they were assaulted. You shouldn’t let this stop you from reporting however; sexual assault is still a crime, even if you were drinking or taking drugs. Sometimes, this crime can also happen when one person “slips” the other person a drug or alcohol that will impair their ability to consent, and then take advantage of them sexually.

DATE RAPE DRUGS

While alcohol is a common drug of choice in these situations, there are also a few illicit drugs in particular that are often used for the purposes of date rape. These include:

  • Rohypnol, also known as date-rape, roachies, la roche, rope, rib, roche, rophies, roofies, ruffies, mexican valium, R-2, the forget pill, peanuts, whiteys, ropes, pappas, ro-shays, or robinal circles. It is the most popular drug used for this offence because it is a powerful sedative. It is a small, colourless, odourless drug in pill form that can be slipped into the victim’s drink easily. Rohypnol also impairs memory, particularly when combined with alcohol. People who consume both substances often experience blackout periods, that can last anywhere from 8-24 hours. Although alcohol enhances the effects of Rohypnol, it can still impair one’s judgement if ingested on its own (such as in a soft drink or a glass of water). Other side effects include: memory loss, unconsciousness, drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, loss of muscle control and judgment, and may cause amnesia in cases where a person has ingested a high amount. The effects of the pill usually take place within 20-30 minutes of consumption and include slurred speech, stumbling, lacking coordination, swaying, having blood-shot eyes and acting “out of it.” These effects are similar to, and can be confused with, the person being drunk.
  • GHB (gamma hydroxybutyric), also known as G, liquid ecstasy, liquid e, liquid x, scoop, soap, gook, grievous bodily harm, bedtime scoop, cherry meth, easy lay, energy drink, gamma 10, G-juice, goop, great hormones, PM, salt water, somatomax, and vita-G. GHB is also a powerful sedative as well as a central nervous system depressant, which causes people to feel sleepy and slows down their breathing. It is a colourless and odourless liquid that has a salty taste, but can also come in the forms of powder or capsules and mixing it with a flavoured drink will mask the salty taste. Some of the effects of GHB include: intense and abrupt drowsiness, dizziness, slower and deeper breathing, decreased body temperature, vomiting, memory loss, interference with mobility and ability to talk, loss of consciousness, diarrhea, seizure, decreased heart rate and excessive salivation. The effects take place only 15 to 20 minutes after consumption and GHB is undetectable in the body 12 hours after consumption.
  • Ketamine, also known as black hole, bump, cat valium, green, jet, K, K-hole, kit kat, psychedelic heroin, purple, special K, and super acid. It comes as a liquid or white powder, and is a very fast acting and dissociative drug, meaning that it can make a person feel detached, and distorts their perception of sight and sound. Other effects of ketamine include numbness, loss of co-ordination, loss of consciousness, drowsiness, problems breathing, increase in blood pressure and heart rate, impaired memory, impaired attention, decrease in learning ability, experiencing a dreamlike state, aggressive behaviour and slurred speech. Like Rohypnol, the effects of ketamine are quick to happen and can be mistaken for the person being intoxicated by alcohol.

All of these drugs are especially dangerous when consumed with alcohol, as both substances cause your breathing and heart rate to slow, which can lead to death. Experimenting with alcohol, drugs, and/or sex is a common practice for teenagers, but all carry with them serious risks. If you suspect that you or friends have consumed any of these substances and may be in medical danger, dial 9-1-1 immediately.

If you are sexually assaulted, or think you might have been but are not sure, contact a local sexual assault centre and/or go to the hospital. Staff at the hospital can answer questions you have about sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy and many communities have sexual assault centres with counsellors and 24/7 sexual assault crisis lines that can help you sort out how the sexual assault has effected  you. A doctor or nurse can also gather evidence that can be used to prosecute the offender if you decide to report the assault to the police. It is common to feel dirty and to want to shower after being assaulted, but it is important not to do this before seeing a doctor as evidence might be washed away.

BULLYING & CYBER BULLYING

Most people know that bullying is any action that is physically, psychologically or emotionally threatening to another person. Bullying takes place in many forms, but typically involves the bully(s) devaluing, humiliating and/or harming another person. Much of the time, bullying is done in such a way that the silence of the bystanders can motivate and encourage the bully’s actions, either by being physically or virtually present and doing nothing to stop it. If you see someone being bullied, speak up or tell a teacher or parents about what is happening. When it comes to this type of behaviour, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Traditional bullying is those actions committed in the physical presence of the victims. For example, someone hitting, slapping or punching another person, calling them names to their face, or spreading rumours about them would be considered traditionally bullying. In today’s virtual world, bullying is also committed virtually via the internet. Some of the ways cyber bullying can occur include: creating online forums/polls which ask people to rate the victim (based on appearance, intelligence, etc.), sending threatening/insulting emails, posting compromising photos of the person online, calling them names through email, text messages or other forms of social media, posting their personal information online for the purpose of harassment and without their permission, making up rumours and spreading them online, accessing their social media account and impersonating them, often to send mean messages to their friends or impersonate them in humiliating ways, and blackmailing someone with photos or information online. Cyberbullying can be especially devastating to the person being bullied, because they cannot escape the bully or the effects of it; where traditional bullying would stop if the person left the playground or school, cyber bullying can follow the person anywhere via the internet.

Bullying can be devastating to a victim. A victim of bullying often will not want to go back to school, will feel personally victimized, likely will experience high anxiety or depression and can sometimes feel like the harassment is their fault and that they cannot stand up for themselves. Having their power removed in that way can leave somebody feeling alone, upset, and even like their life isn’t worth living anymore.

If you are being bullied, either in person or online, you are not alone. One in three teens report being bullied either face to face or over the internet. If you are experiencing bullying or cyberbullying, and you are feeling like you can’t handle it on your own anymore, tell your teacher, parents, friends, and anyone else you think might be able to make it stop. If you don’t it may only get worse.

“SEXTING”

Sexting broadly means to send sexually explicit materials (pictures containing nudity, text with sexual content) through mobile phones. Sexting is on the rise amongst teens, with almost 1 in 5 teens reporting that they have either sent or received a ‘sext’. Unfortunately, while often used as a way to explore sexuality, these messages (particularly pictures) have at times been used maliciously to embarrass or intimidate the sender, or shared without the permission of the person who is depicted. Because ‘sexts’ are digital, it is easy to copy and share the messages to a wide number of people, and sometimes they reach unintended recipients such as your friends, teachers, parents, employers, and even the police.

Recent changes to the law have made it so that when you share a picture that displays nudity or sexuality to a third person or party, without the original person’s consent, you are actually distributing child pornography if the person who is depicted is under the age of 18. Where the photo is kept private (i.e. between two people in a romantic relationship), taken by one of the people involved, and the taking of the photo was consensual, then the image is not considered child pornography. Creating ‘sext’ images and sharing them with a partner is therefore not illegal, however if you create or share an image of your partner (or anyone else) without their consent, you can face legal consequences.

Because the image or text is in a digital format it is very easy to copy and share it to multiple people. Before sending a ‘sext’, consider that while you may trust the person you are sexting with now, break ups happen and friends sometimes may enemies in the future. You may end up in a situation where you have shared a photo with someone you truly trusted at one time, but they have now used those messages to humiliate, embarrass or intimidate you. Also, your friends might brag about the pictures they have sent or have received, making you think that “everyone is doing it.” You may even be singled out if you haven’t taken part in sexting. Don’t let peer pressure get to you. Make sure you use good judgement and stand your ground. If you receive a sexual image from someone and you don’t think the person in the picture would have consented to having it taken or shared, make sure you tell a trusted adult what is going on. If you feel comfortable, let the person who sent it to you know that what they are doing is wrong, that it is hurtful to the person who is in the photo, and that what they are doing may actually be illegal. This is another situation where if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

GENERAL SAFETY TIPS FOR TEENS

This guide has given you information about the types of situations and relationships you may find yourself in that could be dangerous or harmful. Staying safe as a teen can be tough; teens aged 15-17 report the highest rates of violence than any other age group and they are almost always victimized by a person known to them. However, you can take steps to minimize the risk of this happening. Here are some good tips for you to consider:

  1. If you are going to consume drugs and alcohol, make sure you do so with people you trust, in an environment that is familiar to you.
  2. Have someone you can call if you get into trouble or want to leave a party earlier than your ride does.  Parents are usually a good option for this; having money for the bus or cab on hand is always a good idea too.
  3. When consuming drugs and alcohol, your judgement is impaired. Decide before you go out who is going to give you a ride home at the end of the night,  which friends you are going to stick with, if you are going to engage in sexual activity and what your limits are, where you are going to go, and when you expect to return home.
  4. Trust your own judgement. Don’t let peer pressure sway you into doing anything you don’t want to do.
  5. Never leave your drink unattended and do not accept a drink from someone you do not know and trust.
  6. Stay alert when at a party and be aware of others’ behaviour. If you suspect they might be drugged or drank too much, help them get home safely and/or call for medical attention. Never leave them alone and do not let them leave with someone you don’t know. Make sure you have each other’s backs.
  7. Don’t get into a car with someone you think is intoxicated, and never try to drive yourself if you have been drinking or taking drugs.
  8. Digital images and text messages can be saved and shared rapidly and are never truly erased, even if they are deleted from your phone or computer. Never post or share pictures or text that you wouldn’t want your parents, teacher or future employer to see.
  9. When talking with people via chat rooms, social networking websites and instant messaging, remember that not everyone is who they say they are. Predators can post fake names, information and pictures to try and lure you into an exploitive and abusive situation.
  10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice when you aren’t sure how to deal with a situation. Talking to your parents, a teacher, school counsellor, doctor, religious leader, community worker, friend or anyone else you trust about something that is troubling you can help a lot and help you decide what to do. If you want to talk to someone anonymously, good places to start are the Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) or the National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-422-4453). Lots of towns and provinces also have distress centres, crisis lines, and sexual assault and/or mental health support lines that you can reach out to 24/7 for information and support.

Feedback about our Child Protection Materials is greatly appreciated.

Please vofv(at)victimsofviolence(dot)on.ca if you have any comments, or to report errors or omissions.

Last modified: September 21, 2016