Addressing Dating Violence through Effective Education
In 2003, 15 year-old Otralla (Trella) Mosley was murdered in her high school hallway by her ex-boyfriend. In 2011, 18 year-old Ashley Astley was stabbed and strangled to death by her ex-boyfriend at his home. These tragedies represent only two of the many cases of teen dating violence that ultimately have ended in loss of life.
Adults and adolescents are often unaware that youth experience unhealthy relationships (e.g., physical abuse, verbal abuse). Unhealthy relationships that are based on violence and abuse have been categorized as teen dating violence, which is defined as the physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship—stalking is also included7, 13, 14.
Various actions and/or tactics are perpetuated by one individual to exert and maintain power or control over the other individual in the relationship. The actions used to exert power include, but are not limited to, physical and sexual violence, emotional and psychological abuse, coercion, isolation, name-calling, threats, jealousy, and manipulation7, 13, 14. The National Institute of Justice (2011) reported between 7 and 30 percent of adolescents experienced some level of dating violence (i.e., sexual, physical, or psychological) in the prior 12 to 18 months. A second report by the National Center of Injury Prevention and Control estimated the prevalence of dating violence among adolescents as ranging from 9 to 65 percent. This wider range is dependent on whether the self-reported response included threats and emotional abuse in the definition of dating violence10.
“Between 7 and 30 percent of adolescents experienced some level of dating violence”
While dating violence is more often perceived as occurring through face-to-face exchanges, this is not always the case. Electronic dating violence is a relatively new phenomenon. In electronic dating violence, one individual exerts power and/or control over another individual through electronic means. Examples of potential platforms for electronic dating violence include, but are not limited to, social media websites (e.g., Facebook and Twitter), text messaging, Internet forums, and instant messaging services. While the abuses of electronic dating violence do not include physical or sexual violence, the psychological abuse is still damaging.
Prior research has shown that the psychological abuse can be more damaging to the victim than physical abuse16. While electronic dating violence is still fairly new in terms of research and awareness, the prevalence of electronic dating violence appears to be high5. In fact, in one study, one in four adolescents reported being a victim of electronic dating violence.24.
It is not well understood precisely what role technology plays in perpetuating teen dating violence, but some research suggests that it can serve as a means to express abusive behaviors. Baker and Carreno (2015) found that technology, including cell phone, social media, and internet use, was often used by one partner to monitor the other, and that this in turn would exacerbate feelings of jealousy, leading to conflict and violence in adolescent relationships.
Teenagers, as a subgroup, are at an elevated risk of experiencing dating violence. For instance, teenagers lack knowledge and experience to understand what constitutes a healthy, normal relationship11, 12. Furthermore, teenagers may continue to remain in an abusive relationship because they mistakenly view the abusive behaviors as a sign of love and affection8, 14. For example, a teen may interpret stalking and jealousy behaviors as love from their significant other.
There are, however, mixed finding on which subgroups are more likely to become victims. For instance, some scholars have reported that males and females are equally as likely to use abusive tactics in dating relationships5, 6, 18. Other research suggests differences in dating violence by gender13, 20, 21. Specifically, some report females are more likely to utilize psychological abuse as a means of control and power while males are more likely to use physical abuse13.
The impact of being a victim of dating violence can be significant. Some effects of dating violence have been found to include depression, suicidal ideation, poor school performance, symptoms of trauma, alcohol/drug abuse, eating disorders, and poor coping strategies and relationship skills1, 2, 4, 15. Furthermore victims of teenage dating violence are likely to be victims during adulthood as well4, 15. There are, however, prevention best practices that can be implemented to help reduce the likelihood of victimization.
“Some effects of dating violence have been found to include depression, suicidal ideation, poor school performance, symptoms of trauma, alcohol/drug abuse, eating disorders, and poor coping strategies and relationship skills”
Research has shown that increases in dating violence education leads to a reduction in both the frequency and severity of teenage dating violence17. Participants in teen dating violence education programs not only report increases in their knowledge and negative attitudes toward violence, but also they report a decrease in the number of violence encounters. This lends credence to the finding that educational programs have the potential to reduce the impact of dating violence among teenagers.
In order to develop effective dating violence prevention programs, it is critical that youth and adults work together when preparing the curriculum. The involvement of youth is imperative for a successful prevention/education program. The youth will have valuable input based on direct involvement and experience with teen dating violence. Their involvement can stem from the perspective of a victim, aggressor, or even witness/bystander to teen dating violence amongst peers. The youths’ perceptions of what is happening with teenage dating violence have been found to be the most accurate19.
“Educational programs on dating violence are more effective if they are promoted and delivered by peers.”
Second, not only should youth be involved in the initial discussions, but also they should aid adults in the development and delivery of the material. While youth have valuable input in the initial development, they also can ensure the accuracy, appropriateness, and acceptability of the prevention and education strategies implemented. Furthermore, youth are more responsive to other youth. If youth are promoting and delivering an educational program regarding dating violence amongst teenagers, the impact of the material will be more effective9. The direct involvement of youth, first-hand knowledge of teenage dating violence, and potential impact on others is critical in ensuring the curriculum is effective in terms of meeting its learning objectives.
1Ackard, D.M., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2002). Date violence and date rape among adolescents: Associations with disordered eating behaviors and psychological health. Child Abuse and Neglect, 26, 455-473.
2Baker, C.K., & Carreno, P.K. (2016). Understanding the role of technology in adolescent dating and dating violence. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 25(1), 308-320.
3Banyard, V.L., & Cross, C. (2008). Consequences of teen dating violence: Understanding intervening variables in ecological context. Violence Against Women, 14(9), 998-1013.
4Draucker, C. B., & Martso, D. (2010). The role of electronic communication technology in adolescent dating violence. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23, 133-142.
5Exner-Cortens, D., Eckenrode, J., & Rothman, E. (2013). Longitudinal associations between teen dating violence victimization and adverse health outcomes. Pediatrics, 131(1), 70-78.
6Halpern, C. T., Oslak, S. G., Young, M. L., Martin, S. L., & Kupper, L. L. (2001). Partner violence among adolescents in opposite-sex romantic relationships: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. American Journal of Public Health, 91(10), 1679-1685.
7Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J.W. (2011). Electronic dating violence: A brief guide for educators and parents. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved from: http://cyberbullying.org/electronic_dating_violence_fact_sheet.pdf
8Hickman, L. J., Jaycox, L. H., & Aronoff, J. (2004). Dating violence among adolescents: Prevalence, gender distribution, and prevention program effectiveness. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 5(2), 123-142.
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12National Institute of Justice. (2011). Prevalence of teen dating violence. Retrieved from http://www.nij.gov/nij/topics/crime/intimate-partner-violence/teen-dating-violence/prevalence.htm
13Pflieger, J. C., & Vazsonyi, A. T. (2006). Parenting processes and dating violence: The mediating role of self-esteem in low and high-SES adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 29, 495-512.
14Raiford, J. L., Wingood, G. M., & Diclemente, R. J. (2007). Prevalence, incidence, and predictors of dating violence: A longitudinal study of African American female adolescents. Journal of Women’s Health, 16, 822-832.
15Sears, H. A., Byers, E. S., Whelan, J. J., Saint-Pierre, M., & The Dating Violence Research Team (2006). "If it hurts you, then it is not a joke:" Adolescents’ ideas about girls’ and boys’ use and experience of abusive behavior in dating relationships. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21, 1191-1207.
16Smith, D. M., & Donnelly, J. (2001). Adolescent dating violence: A multi-systemic approach of enhancing awareness in educators, parents, and society. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, 21, 53-64.
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19Taylor, B. Stein, N. D., Woods, D. & Mumford, D. (2012). Shifting boundaries: A summary of findings from a National Institute of Justice Prevention Program in New York City middle schools October 2008 - December 2010. National Institute of Justice Annual Conference Presentation.
20Toews, M. L., Yazedjian, A., & Jorgensen, D. (2011). "I haven’t done nothin’ crazy lately": Reducing violence in adolescent mothers’ dating relationships. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 180-186.
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22Windle, M., & Mrug, S. (2009). Cross-gender violence perpetration and victimization among early adolescents and associations with attitudes toward dating conflict. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 429-439.
23Wolitzky-Taylor, K. B., Ruggiero, K. J., Danielson, C. K., Resnick, H. S., Hanson, R. F., Smith, D. W., … Kilpatrick, D. G. (2008). Prevalence and correlates of dating violence in a national sample of adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 47(7), 755-762.
24Zweig, J.M., Dank, M., Yahner, J., & Lachman, P. (2013). The rate of cyber dating abuse among teens and how it relates to other forms of teen dating violence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42, 1063-1077.