Growing Into Healthy Relationships: A Teen Dating Violence Q&A

Apr 12 2016

Growing Into Healthy Relationships: A Teen Dating Violence Q&A

teen dating violenceNo teenager wants to trade the sweaty palms and fluttering heartbeats that come with a first date or romantic relationship for real dread, fear, or even injury from dating violence. But it is a sad fact that emotional abuse, physical violence, and sexual violence do occur among some teen dating couples.

One in three teens in the U.S. report being a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner in the past 12 months, according to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Research into teen dating violence is helping to explain why it occurs and opening doors to intervene so that adolescents can develop healthy relationship skills they can sustain for life.

Recently, during Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Christine Forke Young, MSN, CRNP, authored a two-part guest blog about health policy and research on teen dating violence for the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

To take a closer look at these issues, Cornerstone chatted with Forke Young, who is a Violence Prevention Initiative Fellow at CIRP and a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The edited conversation follows below.

What were some of the major findings of the Campus Violence Study that you and colleagues conducted?

We surveyed students at three local colleges in the Philadelphia area, which we selected to get a broad diversity of students. Our adolescent sample included about 900 students age 22 and under.

In the first analysis [published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, we wanted to look at prevalence rates of relationship violence. In that analysis, almost half of people were reporting some involvement in violence, either victimization or perpetration; more females than males reported perpetrating violence and about a quarter of males reported being victims of violence. That was shocking to some people.

Another interesting finding was that emotional violence was the highest form of violence reported before college and was equal with sexual violence during college. Yet, emotional or psychological violence as some describe it, is frequently absent from studies on teen dating violence, even though it is linked to a host of negative consequences.

What ongoing research are you doing with data from the Campus Violence Study?

Well, there are a few things we are still exploring. First, I am focusing on how witnessing violence in the home during childhood is related to future involvement with teen dating violence and whether gender matters. For instance, do outcomes differ if a boy witnesses his mom being violent towards his dad or if he witnesses his dad being violent towards his mom?

A second offshoot of the original study is related to resource knowledge and utilization. We found woefully low rates of awareness for existing IPV resources and even lower rates of utilization. We did a qualitative follow-up study to identify what resources students and faculty knew about, perceived barriers to use, and suggestions for improving resources and their marketing. We will soon be analyzing those data.

In your CIRP blog post, you discussed the fact that research into teen dating violence has evolved in its perceptions of gender role and violence perpetration vs. victimization. Can you tell us more about this shift in focus?

At the time we started the Campus Violence Study about a decade ago, it was uncommon for studies to look at males and females together. The field of intimate partner violence research — and subsequently teen dating violence — got its legs and steam behind it as a women’s issue, so it was natural at first to focus on female victimization.

Our team was interested in comparing experiences of males as well, so we asked females and males about their lifetime experiences with victimization and perpetration of four types of teen dating violence: physical, sexual, and emotional violence and stalking. It was one the first studies, maybe the first, to combine all these factors together so we could draw comparisons. Since then, more investigators are taking this approach, which has increased our understanding of similarities and differences between males and females for various types of violence.

These comparative studies uncovered some results that were unexpected to some — men reported being victimized and women reported perpetration.

There are two camps, two different ways, of thinking about this. One camp identifies intimate partner violence predominantly as a women’s issue, arguing that when women are abused, it’s usually in self-defense or results in more severe injuries because men are larger and can hit harder, but the data exploring this idea is inconsistent. The second camp recognizes that while there may be differences in consequences for males and females, both are involved in victimization and perpetration, and both suffer as a result. Because this approach tackles violence as a global issue instead of pigeon-holing it as a women’s issue, I think it will gain even more traction.

This perspective has recently entered mainstream thinking. At the Oscars this year, there were 50 sexual assault victims — men and women — who came out on stage with Lady Gaga as part of her performance of “Til It Happens to You.” What a powerful moment. Something else that struck me was Vice President Biden’s introduction where he made a point to note that this issue affects men and women.

Including male victimization in the conversation is important because it changes our overall messaging to teens and affects how resources are developed and allocated. Almost all programs to assist victims are female-focused or reside at women’s health centers. While some of these programs will offer services to men, do we really expect men who are victimized to show up to a women’s health center for care?

You also mentioned in your previous post that there are measurement challenges with understanding teen dating violence. Can you expand on that?

There is a great deal of interest in measurement right now. While there are a host of topic areas within measurement, I’ll just give a couple examples of why it matters. Much of adolescent dating violence work is based on what we know from the adult literature about intimate partner violence, but teen relationships are fundamentally different, so we need to account for that. Also, as the times have changed, technology and social media allow additional ways to impart fear and intimidation among victims. We need to take factors like these into account as we build on prior work; we want to be sure we are measuring components of violent relationships that may be unique to teens. Many researchers are now employing qualitative techniques to help uncover some of these nuances and are using the findings to enhance existing measures and methodologies.

To read more of Forke Young’s perspective on teen dating violence, read her CIRP blog posts about health policy and research on teen dating violence