More than one-third of U.S. teens and young adults say they’ve suffered abuse during dating and about one-third say they’ve been perpetrators of abuse, new research finds. About one-quarter say they’ve been both an abuser and a victim.
It’s not clear how the research defines dating violence beyond the categories of psychological, physical and sexual. However, the study, based on national surveys from 2011 and 2012, reveals that problems of abuse that face adolescents aren’t receding, said Emily Rothman, an associate professor at Boston University School of Public Health who is familiar with the findings.
“It is sorely disappointing that we have not seen improvements in the prevalence of dating violence in the past 12 years, but there is a clear reason for it,” she said. “We spend virtually no money on dating violence prevention or education in schools and communities. Problems don’t change unless you try to fix them.”
Abuse during dating relationships appears to be fairly common among teens in the United States. Federal research has shown that about 9 percent of high school students report being hit or physically hurt by their girlfriend or boyfriend, and 8 percent have been forced to have sexual intercourse, said Dr. Yolanda Evans, an assistant professor at Seattle Children’s Hospital who studies teens.
Another expert on teens noted that the level of abuse among teens is difficult to study. That’s because “the whole idea of what constitutes dating and a dating relationship during adolescence is confusing, conflicted and somewhat ambiguous for researchers, parents and teens,” said Donna Howard, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
The new study, by Michele Ybarra at the Center for Innovative Public Health Research in San Clemente, Calif., and colleagues, is based on a survey of 1,058 young people aged 14 to 20.
The investigators found that 35 percent of girls and women reported perpetrating abuse, 41 percent said they were victims, and 29 percent said they were both victims and perpetrators. For boys and men, the numbers were 29 percent, 37 percent and 24 percent, respectively.
Females were more likely to say they were victims of sexual violence and perpetrators of physical violence. Males reported committing more sexual violence.
The study and two others that examined dating violence in teens are scheduled for presentation Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, in Honolulu.
Bullying and dating violence seem to go together, another conference study suggests.
It reported findings from a national survey of 625 American youths who answered questions six times during middle school and high school from 2008 to 2012. Of those who had dated, 10 percent said they’d slapped or hit a romantic partner and 11 percent said they’d bit a partner. About one in four said they’d used a hostile tone with a partner.
What to do? “Adolescent dating violence is a topic we need to discuss because more teens may be experiencing it than we thought,” said Evans, of Seattle Children’s Hospital. “Intimate partner violence is associated with poor school performance, poor self-esteem, depression and thoughts of suicide. We should communicate with our teens that it is never OK to act violently against a partner or to force them to do something they do not feel comfortable doing. We also need to teach our teens that it is unacceptable for someone to act violently towards us in a relationship.”
A third conference study, based on a survey of 1,525 Latinos aged 12 to 18, suggests that teens are at lower risk of dating abuse if they have more family support.
The studies should be considered preliminary because they were presented at a conference. Such research typically has not gone through the peer-review process required of studies that appear in academic and medical journals.