Prevalence of Teenage Dating Violence
Social media, television shows, and Hollywood movies portray the teen years as the time in which adolescents begin exploring the world of romance by engaging in innocent dating relationships. The media depiction of teen romance is accurate when reviewing research that indicates 61% of teen’s ages 13 through 18 were involved in a physical and/or romantic relationship (Liz Claiborne Inc., 2006).
While the high percentage of teenagers engaging in romantic and physical relationships matches that portrayed in the media, the innocence and fairy tale like quality of adolescent dating seen on television is not the reality for more than a quarter of teenage relationships. The media depicts teenagers as hormone driven individuals seeking out romantic partners. In reality, 24% of teenagers state that their reasons for dating were due to peer pressure and a social expectation mandating that they date (Liz Claiborne Inc., 2006). Of these 24% of teenagers in a relationship due to peer pressure, 14% said they would do anything to keep their partner in order to fulfill that social expectation (Liz Claiborne Inc., 2006).
In the movies teenagers in relationships are seen engaging in mutually agreed upon and wanted intimate partner relations. In reality, 25% of teenagers state that they became physical within a relationship because of social pressure (Liz Claiborne Inc., 2006). One-third of teenagers, ages 16 through 18, stated that sex is an expected activity when involved in a serious relationship and that refusing to have sex would result in them being looked down upon by their peers and/or causing the end of their relationship (Liz Claiborne Inc., 2006).
Review of the data which suggests that a quarter of all teenagers enter into relationships due to peer pressure, and that a third of all teenagers have sexual relationships with their partners due to the social expectations, leads to questions of how respectful partners within these relationships are towards one another. If teenagers enter into relationships due to a personal need to fulfill social expectations, rather than a love or infatuation with their partner, how much love and compassion do these individuals show for one another? Of those 14% of teens who would do anything to keep their partners to maintain the social expectation or dating, what actions will they exhibit to keep that partner and what behaviors will a partner tolerate to maintain the relationship? No direct research examining these questions has been conducted but research into the prevalence of intimate partner violence within teenage relationships does provide some indicators as to how these relationships are carried out.
In 2006, 64% of teenagers who had been or were in a dating relationship reported that their partner was controlling by demanding to know where they were and who they were with at all times (Liz Claiborne Inc., 2006). Of dating teens, 21% reported that their significant other had tried to isolate them from family members, 61% reported that their partner belittled them and made them feel bad about themselves (Liz Claiborne Inc., 2006). One in three adolescents, ages 14-20, are victims of intimate partner violence, and one in three teenagers admit to being the perpetrator of dating violence (United States Department of Education [U.S. DE], 2013). Of teenagers ages 13 through 18, 30% report being fearful of their safety in their relationships and 20% report that their partner hit, kicked, slapped or punched them (Liz Claiborne Inc., 2006). One study found that 25% of sixth graders believed it was socially acceptable for an individual to hit and slap their dating partner (U.S. DE, 2013). A survey of 9th through 12th grade girls found that 12% were forced to have sexual intercourse with their partner (U.S. DE, 2013). An alarming 29% of teenagers, ages 13 through 18, stated they engaged in sexual activity they did not want to due to pressure and threats from their partner (Liz Claiborne Inc., 2006).
As troubling as the aforementioned statistics of teenage dating violence and sexual coercion are, more troubling is that 55% of teenagers, ages 13 through 18, stated that they had compromised their own morals, values, and ethical beliefs to please their partner (Liz Claiborne Inc., 2006). If 55% of teens admit to acting in ways that are contrary to their personal beliefs in order to please their partner how effective is teaching youth to leave an abusive partners and end relationships in which they are pressured to go against their values? To answer this question, research shows that 25% of teenagers will allow and excuse their partner for controlling behaviors, physical abuse and sexual abuse; 47% of the teens who excused this type of abuse from their partners did so due to a fear of breaking up with their partner (Liz Claiborne Inc., 2006). Under close analysis of the data presented it appears that individuals will remain in abusive relationships, even when they know the behaviors of their partner is wrong, due to the fear of being single, fear of leaving the partner causing him or her to retaliate violently, and/or negative reactions from friends and family if the relationship ends. Other research supports this hypothesis and also suggests that love for the partner, cultural beliefs, embarrassment, and low self-esteem contribute to teenagers remaining in violent and abusive relationships.
Consequences of Violent Teen Relationships
The consequences of an individual being involved in a violent relationship are wide and long lasting. Studies show that 20% of teenagers involved in abusive relationships are more likely to earn D’s and F’s in school (U.S. DE, 2013) and perform more poorly in school than they had before (Pace, 2012). Research also shows that victims of teenage dating violence are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, participate in risky sexual behaviors, be depressed, and are more likely to be involved in future violent relationships with other partners (Pace, 2012; U.S. DE, 2013). Recent studies have found that of adults who are currently in abusive relationships, or recently left a violent relationship, 22% of the women and 15% of the men had previously been in an abusive relationships between the ages of eleven and seventeen (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2014); indicating that involvement in a violent relationship during the teenage years makes one more susceptible to violent relationships in the future. A complication in understanding the short term and long term consequences of teenage dating violence exists due to past studies not taking into account the potential complications of individuals involved in violent teenage relationships having also been previously exposed to domestic violence or other abusive relationships before their adolescent years (Banyard & Cross, 2008). For now the most acknowledged consequences for teenagers involved in violent relationships are immediate physical harm, poor grades, social isolation, depression, suicide, drug use, unintended pregnancy, and involvement in abusive adult relationships (Banyard & Cross, 2008; CDC, 2014).
The most severe consequence of teenage dating violence is the death of one or both of the partners. No national data list exists which shows the exact number of teenagers killed by their intimate partner each year. This lack of information is contributed to the fact that only a handful of states track the percent of youth deaths which occur within teenage dating relationships. In 2010, 130 youth were killed in a domestic violence incident in the State of Georgia and 4 of those youth were killed by their dating partner (Georgia Commission of Family Violence [GCFV], 2010). During that same year, 30% of Georgia’s 75 adult domestic homicide cases were done by individuals who had begun dating when they were teens (GCFV, 2010).
In 2010, 4,828 individuals in the United Stated, ages 10 to 24, were victims of homicide (CDC, 2011). During that same year, 784 juveniles committed murder, 2,198 committed forcible rape, and 35,001 were arrested for aggravated assault (CDC, 2011). In 2011, a statistical analysis of homicide cases in the United States found that 55% of homicides were committed by an acquaintance of the victim and 22% of victims were killed by a spouse or family member (Cooper & Smith, 2011). This study also found that 1 out of 5 murder victims were killed by an intimate partner and 2 out of 5 females were killed by a former or current romantic partner (Cooper & Smith, 2011). Though no national reports listing the exact number of teen deaths that occur in dating relationships exist a rough estimate, of how many teen deaths are related to dating relationships, can be made by taking the 1 in 5 deaths occurring between intimate partners and applying it to the number of youth who died in 2010. By using this formula an estimated 965.6 of the 4,828 youth who were murdered in 2010 were killed by an intimate partner.
Risk Factors for Becoming Involved in a Violent Teen Relationship
Numerous studies have been conducted with the aim of understanding the causes of teen dating violence and what types of individuals are more likely to be involved in these relationships. The most recent study investigating the contributing factors to an individual becoming an abuser found that males who are involved in aggressive sibling relationships, and who had witnessed or experienced family violence at home, were more likely to be sexually, physically, and verbally aggressive within their intimate partner relationships (Espelage, Low & Anderson, 2014). The same study found that females who had adverse relationships with their siblings were more likely to use sexual-coercion and/or violent verbal assaults within their dating relationships (Espelage et al., 2014).
Another study found that youth who experience severe emotional trauma and physical abuse during childhood are more likely to suffer from post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) and be the perpetrators and victims of teenage intimate partner violence. (Wekerle, et al., 2009). This study found that males who were victims of childhood abuse, and had a diagnosis of PTSD, were more likely to be the abuser in the relationship while females with the same childhood experiences and diagnosis of PTSD were typically the victim in an abusive dating relationship. As similar study found that females who had witnessed their mother being abused by their father were more likely to be victims of teenage dating violence while females who witnessed their mother and father mutually harm one another typically become the perpetrator of violence in their dating relationship (Temple et al, 2013). This same study found that males are more likely to become the abuser in their relationships when they witness their mothers being abusive to their fathers (Temple et al, 2013).
Studies investigating mezzo and macro environmental influences on teenage dating violence found a multitude of environmental predictors and causes of an adolescent becoming involved in an abusive relationship. Teenagers exposed to violent rap music videos are more likely to excuse dating violence (Johnson et al., 1995). Parents and adults, sought out for help by a teenager in an abusive relationship, are likely to downplay the relationship violence reported by the teen (Sousa, 1999). Girls who live in rural areas are more likely to be victims of teen dating violence as are girls who have friends that are involved in abusive relationships (Schubert Center for Child Studies, 2010). Many studies have found that women from minority groups are more likely to become trapped within violent relationships due to cultural factors which prevent them from seeking help or recognizing the violence (Adams & Williams, 2014; Shen, 2011; Smokowski, Ferdon & Stroupe, 2009). Some highly contested studies show links between aggressive/bullying behaviors and a youths exposure to violent video games, suggesting that exposure to games in which partner abuse is part of the game format may cause a teen who plays this game may be a perpetrator of teen dating violence (Cooper & Zimmerman, 2011; Pusateri, 2006).
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