The Prevalence and Consequences of Dating Violence among Youth
Dating violence has emerged as a major public health issue over the past several decades (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000; O'Keefe, 2005; Powers and Kerman, 2006). Until recently, incidents of dating violence have mainly been associated with college students and adults (O'Keefe, 2005). Research has begun to expose an alarming number of dating violence incidents involving youth, specifically teenagers.
“81 percent of parents either believe that teen dating violence is not an issue, or admit that they don’t know if it’s an issue.”
Research suggests that Teen Dating Violence (TDV) is more prevalent than previously believed (Powers and Kerman, 2006). Research has shown that there are no significant differences in prevalence rates between the sexes in TDV (Banyard and Cross, 2008). In addition, TDV has shown to have serious social, emotional, physical, and mental consequences at a crucial time in human development (O'Keefe, 2005).
Prevalence rates of TDV vary considerably between studies. For example, O'Keefe (2005) indicated that studies have reported rates of TDV ranging from 9% to 57%. Findings from the national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS) revealed 9.4% of high school students reported being physically hurt (e.g., hit or slapped) by a boyfriend or girlfriend intentionally (Center for Disease and Control and Prevention, 2011). One of the main contributors to this variation in prevalence rates is how TDV is defined or conceptualized. Specifically, some definitions include psychological and emotional forms of teen dating violence, while others are restricted to physical forms of violence (O'Keefe, 2005; Powers and Kerman, 2006). The lack of a standardized definition is also apparent in adult forms of dating violence and spousal abuse.
“9.4% of high school students reported being physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend intentionally.”
Other contributing factors relate to how questions are asked when measuring TDV (e.g., "have you been a victim in the last six months?", versus "have you ever been a victim?") and biases that are inherently part of self-report data (e.g., over/under reporting of involvement in incidents) (O'Keefe, 2005; Powers and Kerman, 2006). TDV is often unreported: in fact, it is estimated that only 33 percent of all teens who have been in violent relationships have ever told anyone else about the abuse (Loveisrespect.org, 2016). Self-report measures are often the only way to collect accurate data on TDV and other forms of dating violence. This is because official sources (e.g., police and court records) lack a significant number of incidents due to unreported cases of TDV (Powers and Kerman, 2006). Research has concluded that TDV is a significant factor in the lives of youth, despite the aforementioned variation in rates, lack of a standardized definition and data collection issues.
TDV is even more disturbing when the consequences of such incidents are considered. Teens are at the peak age for social and emotional development. Being a victim, perpetrator, or even a bystander to such violent behavior can have significant impact on teenagers' developmental processes (O'Keefe, 2005; Powers and Kerman, 2006). Powers and Kerman (2006) concluded that developing meaningful relationships and intimacy are crucial factors in healthy social development. In addition, O'Keefe (2005) stated that unhealthy romantic relationships as a teenager can carry over into adulthood. Developmental issues are not the only harm that TDV can cause. There are also physical and mental consequences associated with all types of violence (Banyard and Cross, 2008). For example, cuts, bruises, broken bones, lack of self-esteem, and depression are all physical and mental harms are all associated with TDV. Teen girls who have been physically or sexually abused are six times more likely to become pregnant, and twice as likely to have an STI than girls who have not been abused (Loveisrespect.org, 2016).
“Being a victim, perpetrator, or even a bystander to such violent behavior can have significant impact on teenagers' developmental processes.”
Loveisrespect.org (2016), an advocacy website aiming to prevent abusive relationships, reports that 81 percent of parents either believe that teen dating violence is not an issue, or admit that they don’t know if it’s an issue. Although there is a lack of consensus on TDV prevalence, TDV clearly has a number of harmful effects on youth. Incidents of TDV must be addressed to protect and ensure the healthy development of youth (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000; O'Keefe, 2005; Powers and Kerman, 2006). Incidents should be handled in a way that those involved can recognize an act of TDV, safely remove themselves from the situation, and get help. Regardless of whether one is the perpetrator, victim, or bystander, education and intervention is needed.
Banyard, V. L., Cross, C. (2008). Consequences of teen dating violence: Understanding intervening variables in ecological context. Violence Against Women, 14 (9), 998-1013.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2000). Dating Violence. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factssheets. Accessed August, 2012.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance-United States, 2011. MMWR 2012; 61(4):1-162.
Loveisrespect.org. (2016). Dating abuse statistics. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from http://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/
Murray, C.E., King, K., & Crowe, A. (2016). Understanding and addressing teen dating violence: Implications for family counselors. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 24(1), 52-59.
O’Keefe, M. (2005). Teen dating violence: A review of risk factors and prevention efforts. Violence Against Women/National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. Retrieved August, 2012, from www.vawnet.org.
Powers. J. & Kerman, E. (2006). Teen dating violence: Research, facts and findings. Act for youth upstate center. A collaboration of Cornell University, University of Rochester, and the New York state center for school safety. Retrieved from http://www.actforyouth.net/resources.
Whitaker, M., & Savage, T. (2014). Social-ecological influences on teen dating violence: A youth rights and capabilities approach to exploring context. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 7(3), 163-174