Almost half of the women murdered in North Carolina and around the country each year lose their lives at the hands of their current or former intimate partners. The dangers faced by adult women in abusive relationships are widely recognized, but the findings of a study published on April 15 in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics suggest that adolescent girls often face the same perils. Relationship problems among teenagers are often dismissed as just a part of growing up, but the study of police reports, medical examiner findings and coroner’s records reveal that they often turn deadly.

The researchers studied the cases of 150 teens killed between 2003 and 2016 by individuals who they knew intimately. A gun was used to commit the crime in 61 percent of these cases, and the perpetrator was 18 years of age or older 80 percent of the time. The most common motives for the killings were jealousy, rejection or a recent breakup. In some of the cases studied, men killed their teenage girlfriends to terminate an unwanted pregnancy or to avoid being charged with statutory rape. The research team concluded that these crimes were often committed in the heat of the moment, and many of them could have been avoided if handguns had not been so easily available.

While this is one of the first studies to look into the murder of adolescent girls by their boyfriends, previous research has revealed that violence in adolescent relationships is worryingly common. More than 6 out of 10 of the teens surveyed on the issue by the National Institute of Justice in 2017 said that they had experienced either physical, sexual or emotional abuse at the hands of an intimate partner.

Attorneys with experience in this area could seek to protect domestic violence victims by petitioning the courts to issue protective orders. These court orders place strict limits on abusers and violating them is considered a criminal offense.