Teen dating violence

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This article is about dating violence among teens. For general topic, see Dating abuse.

Teen dating violence is the physical, sexual, or psychological / emotional abuse (or violence) within a dating relationship among adolescents.[1] Intimate partner violence has been a well examined and documented phenomenon in adults, however there has not been nearly as much study on violence in adolescent dating relationships, meaning it is not as well understood. Intimate partner violence in adolescents is an important realm of study as, in addition to the usual negative effects of abuse, this violence occurs at a critical period in the social and mental development of a person. This is also an important topic from a gender studies perspective as almost 32% of male adolescents engage in some form of violence, whether sexual, physical or emotional, towards their partners while adolescent violence from females is nearly half of that rate.[2] Also, according to the United States public health authority, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "[a]dolescents and adults are often unaware that teens experience dating violence." [1] In a 2009 survey, the CDC found that 9.8% of high school students in the U.S. reported having been intentionally physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the preceding 12 months.[1] The CDC also reports that approximately 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men who have been a victim of intimate partner violence (IPV) first experienced IPV between the ages of 11 and 17.[1] The ages between 16 and 24 are when youth are the most susceptible to dating violence. Also, according to the CDC, one in ten teens will be physically abused between seventh and twelfth grade. Because of this abuse, victims are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, employ precarious sexual conduct, develop eating disorders, and attempt suicide.[1] The above numbers are notable in their magnitude and in their discrepancy, indicating that at some point between birth and high school a huge number of males are learning that it is useful and acceptable to abuse their dating partners in some way. The reciprocal of males learning violent behaviors is that women are not learning this fact and are instead learning through our culture and through violence directed at them that they are to be submissive. Males learning violent behaviors coupled with females thinking it normative creates a cycle of women being abused, learning to accept it and imparting this idea to their children and repeating the process. Adolescent dating violence is a subject which must be understood in order for true equality between the sexes to be achieved and to help stop partner violence in adults before it occurs.

Gender differences[edit]

Although studies show that both genders engage in physical abuse, the form varies. Females are more likely to use less dangerous forms of physical violence (e.g. pushing and slapping), while males are more likely to punch and threaten with weapons.[3] Males are also more likely to use sexual aggression, although both genders are equally likely to pressure their partner into sexual activities.[3] In addition, females are four times more likely to respond as having experienced rape and are also more likely to suffer fatal injuries inflicted by their partner.[3]

Along with form, motivations for violence also vary by gender: females are likely to perpetrate violence in self-defense, while males are likely to perpetrate violence to exert power or control.[4] This theory is strengthened by findings that previous victimization is a stronger predictor of perpetration in females than males.[4]

Controversies and arguments[edit]

There is a common misconception that aggression is stable over time. That is, young people who are labeled as or considered to be violent and aggressive at any point in time are then assumed to be dangerous for the rest of their lives.[5] This is a contentious issue because there is a desire to protect both parties involved (or that have the potential to become involved) in teen dating violence. While classifying the perpetrator as a threat may be detrimental to his or her life and future relationships, not classifying the perpetrator this way may put future partners at risk.

There is considerable debate over whether we as a society have an accurate picture of the prevalence and severity of teen dating violence by gender. It is important to note that although male and female adolescents do not differ in “overall frequency of violence in dating relationships,” females are subject to “significantly higher levels of severe violence”.[6] This fact begs the question of whether abuse should be evaluated based on “severity” and how that can and should be measured, or if all abuse should be considered equally harmful.

Age of consent is an issue that cannot be ignored in the discussion of teenage dating violence. Teenage sex is regulated in such a way that “age of consent laws render teenagers below a certain age incapable of consent to sexual activity with adults, and sometimes with peers”.[7] In some cases, the adult may be just a few months older than the minor. There are a number of states in which “age of consent statutes are used to prosecute consensual sex between two persons both under the age of consent.” This type of prosecution has been deemed unconstitutional in some states by citing violation of privacy rights, but remains in effect in other states. Sexual behavior and aggression can be so deeply intertwined that the legality of underage consensual sex is sure to have an effect on teen dating violence.

Nature vs. nurture[edit]

Significant research has been done on the causes behind violent behavior in adolescent dating relationships with the intention of guiding the creation of dating violence prevention programs, and in turn has provided findings on the roles of nature and nurture in the development of such behavior with a strong favor towards nurture factors. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health examined the potential association between a spectrum of childhood adverse experiences and physical violence in relationships before age 21 for both members. The subjects were asked questions about violence in their adolescent relationships, as either victim or perpetrator, and their childhood surrounding twelve different adversities: parental death, parental divorce, long-term separation from parent, parental mental illness, parental substance abuse disorder, parental criminality, inter-parental violence, serious physical illness in childhood, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and family economic adversity. The results demonstrated a strong positive correlation between ten out of the twelve childhood adversities and physically violent behavior in a teen relationship, with 13.8% responding with experiences of sexual violence, and 11.6% experiencing inter-parental violence. This points to a strong influence of experience, or nature, on violent tendencies in adolescent relationships. Multiple other studies corroborate these findings, citing childhood bullying, assault, and maltreatment as significant indicators for future violence in adolescent dating.[8] Though there has been little explicit study of the relationship between nature and teen dating violence, there has been proven correlation between testosterone levels and violent tendencies that could come to fruition in adolescent dating relationships. Higher testosterone levels “manifests itself in various intensities and forms from; thoughts, anger, verbal aggressiveness, competition, dominance behavior, to physical violence.” A study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism reported, “Testosterone plays a significant role in the arousal of these behavioral manifestations in the brain centers involved in aggression and on the development of the muscular system that enables their realization. There is evidence that testosterone levels are higher in individuals with aggressive behavior, such as prisoners who have committed violent crimes.” However, the study also noted that many cases of high testosterone levels are disarmed through socialization.[9] Overall, because children are exposed to relationships early in their life through their parents and being so malleable at a young age, most evidence points to an adverse experience or experiences in childhood as fodder for such behavior in adolescence.

United Kingdom[edit]

In 2010, a campaign by the Home Office featured adverts targeting "boys and girls aged 13 to 18" via television, radio, Internet, and poster campaigns. The campaign followed research by the NSPCC indicating that approximately one-quarter of 13- to 17-year-old females had experienced physical abuse from a dating partner.[10]

United Kingdom organizations

United States[edit]

Prevalence of teen dating violence[edit]

While dating, domestic and sexual violence affect women regardless of their age, teens and young women are especially vulnerable. Young people ages 12 to 19 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault,[11] and people age 18 and 19 experience the highest rates of stalking.

Approximately one in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner—a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth[12] Mark Green, former Wisconsin Representative said "if the numbers we see in domestic violence (dating violence) were applied to terrorism or gang violence, the entire country would be up in arms, and it would be the lead story on the news every night".[13]

According to Women's Health, "81% of parents surveyed either believed dating violence is not an issue or admit they don't know if it's an issue",[citation needed] this is concerning because of the growth of dating abuse in teenagers relationships.[citation needed] Dating violence has advanced[clarification needed] through the years by the means of communication technology. A survey conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited stated that "[10] percent of teens have been threatened physically via e-mail, IM, text messaging, chat rooms, etc."


In the United States, the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) states that "[p]olicymakers can play a role in preventing teen dating violence"[14] and lists those states that currently have laws requiring school boards to develop and adopt programs to address this issue. Further, according to NCSL "[i]n 2011 at least eight states have introduced legislation to address teen dating violence".[14] On January 31, 2011, President Obama proclaimed February 2011 to be "National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month".[15] In 2006 the U.S. first recognized "National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week", sponsored by Senator Mike Crapo, to "increase public awareness and education of the prevalence of teen dating violence among our nation's teens".[16] The first week in February was so recognized through 2009. Beginning in 2010, Senator Crapo joined the Department of Justice in recognizing the month of February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.[16]

National helpline[edit]

The National Dating Abuse Helpline, created by National Domestic Violence Hotline, is a 24-hour nationwide Web-based and telephone resource created to help teens and young people who are experiencing dating abuse. They offer information on building healthy relationships and how to recognize warning signs. It is the only helpline in the country serving all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.[17]

Teen dating violence organizations based in the United States[edit]

Association with sexual activity[edit]

Surveys indicate that the majority of American teens who have actually had sex wish they had waited. Among sexually active girls, two-thirds say they did not want to lose their virginity when they did or that they had mixed feelings about it.[18]

Only a small percentage of women who had sex before age 18 said it was completely wanted. Just 1% chose to have sex when they were 13 or younger, 5% at 14 or 15 years old, and 10% at 16 or 17 years old. Another 42% reported that losing their virginity before age 18 was not completely wanted, while the remaining portion of the sample waited until age 18 or older to have sex (wanted, 22%; unwanted, 21%).[19]

A first sexual experience that was unwanted or not completely wanted was strongly associated with future divorce.[19] "If the sex was not completely wanted or occurred in a traumatic context, it is easy to imagine how that could have a negative impact on how women might feel about relationships, or on relationship skills", Anthony Paik, associate professor of sociology at the University of Iowa, said. "The experience could point people on a path toward less stable relationships".


  1. When a friend and the aggressor (the violent significant other) are together, the last one calls the victim names or puts her/him down in front of other people.
  2. The aggressor acts extremely jealous when the victim talks to other person of the aggressor's sex, even when it is completely innocent.
  3. The victim apologizes for the aggressor's behavior and makes excuses for him/her.
  4. The victim frequently cancels plans at the last minute, for reasons that sound untrue.
  5. The aggressor is always checking up on the victim, calling or paging her/him, and demanding to know where the victim has been and with whom has been.
  6. The aggressor loses his/her temper, maybe even break or hit things when mad.
  7. The victim seems worried about upsetting the aggressor or making him/her angry.
  8. The victim is giving up things that used to be important to her/him, such as spending time with friends or other activities, and is becoming more and more isolated.
  9. The victim's weight, appearance or grades have changed dramatically. These could be signs of depression, which could indicate abuse.
  10. The victim has injuries she/he cannot explain, or the explanations given do not make sense.[20]

Other teen dating violence organizations[edit]

  • RespectED, Provided by the Canadian Red Cross, give information to teens, parents, and teachers about abuse in dating relationships


Although dating abuse (see intimate partner violence) is not as widely studied in adolescents as in adults, this formidable stage of life is viewed as a “window of opportunity for prevention” [14] of not only continued harmful behavior now, but also future destructive behaviors toward oneself and others. Because trauma in adolescence is such a strong predictor for future actions, [1] it is important that society begins to take a deeper look into the issue and becomes more conscious of its prevalence and severity of its impact. Despite the controversies over severity of violence and hormone development and expression between sexes, society is beginning the move toward understanding teen dating violence and the necessity for change in the way it is handled. The freshly garnered attention that the issue is receiving from both President Obama and state policymakers, including working with health officials to gather new surveillance data to strengthen awareness of prevalence, [14] is leading society into a promising direction towards recognition and prevention.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Teen dating violence", URL retrieved 13 August 2011.
  2. ^ Bachman, Ronet; Peralta, Robert (2002). "The relationship between drinking and violence in an adolescent population: does gender matter?". Deviant Behavior 23 (1). Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c Poet, A; Swiderski, C. R.; McHugh, M. C. (2011). "Developing Teen Relationships: The Role of Violence". The psychology of teen violence and victimization, vols 1 and 2: From bullying to cyberstalking to assault and sexual violation; prevention strategies for families and schools. 1 & 2: 221–241. 
  4. ^ a b Edwards, K. M.; Dardis, C. M.; Gidycz, C. A. (2011). "The role of victimization experiences in adolescent girls and young women's aggression in dating relationships". The psychology of teen violence and victimization, vols 1 and 2: From bullying to cyberstalking to assault and sexual violation; prevention strategies for families and schools. 1 & 2: 71–82. 
  5. ^ Loeber, Rolf; Stouthamer-Loeber, Magda (1998). "Development of juvenile aggression and violence: Some common misconceptions and controversies". American Psychologist 53 (2): 242–259. 
  6. ^ Molidor, Tolman (1998). "Gender and Contextual Factors in Adolescent Dating Violence". Violence Against Women 4 (2): 180–194. 
  7. ^ Sutherland, Kate (2003). "From Jailbird to Jailbait: Age of Consent Laws and the Construction of Teenage Sexualities". William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law 9 (3): 313–349. 
  8. ^ "Adverse Childhood Experiences and Risk of Physical Violence in Adolescent Dating Relationships". Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 65 (11): 1006–1013. 2011. 
  9. ^ Batrinos, Menelaos (2012). "Testosterone and Aggressive Behavior in Man.". International Journal of Endocrinologyand Metabolism 10 (3): 563–568. 
  10. ^ ((cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk/8515601.stm%7Ctitle=Teenage domestic violence tackled by advert campaign|accessdate=2014 November 19))
  11. ^ Truman, Jennifer. "Criminal Victimization, 2008". U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics. U.S. Department of Justice. 
  12. ^ Davis, Antoinette (2008). "Interpersonal and Physical Dating Violence among Teens" (PDF). The National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus. 
  13. ^ Savacool, Julia. "Our Most Important Mission Ever: Stop Violence Against Women Now, 2005". 
  14. ^ a b c d "Teen Dating Violence" on NCSL.ogv, retrieved 13 August 2011.
  15. ^ "Presidential Proclamation--National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, 2011" on whitehouse.gov, URL retrieved 13 August 2011.
  16. ^ a b "Teen Dating Violence Awareness Week" on crapo.senate.gov, URL retrieved 13 August 2011.
  17. ^ Jewish Women International
  18. ^ "Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing, 2002" (PDF). Vital and Health Statistics. National Center for Health Statistics. 2002. Retrieved 2008-04-29. 
  19. ^ a b Anthony Paik (2011). "Adolescent Sexuality and the Risk of Marital Dissolution". Journal of Marriage and Family 73 (2): 472. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00819.x. 
  20. ^ Liz Clairborne Inc (2000). What You Need to Know About Dating Violence: A Teen's Handbook. 

External links[edit]

Canadian resources
  • RespectED, Provided by the Canadian Red Cross, give information to teens, parents, and teachers about abuse in dating relationships
  • The Fourth R, Provided by the CAMH centre for Prevention Science and the Fourth R program to prevent adolescent dating violence and promote healthy teen relationships.
UK resources
US resources