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Both genders can get wrapped up in dating violence

Published on -7/15/2013, 7:47 AM

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This is the second in a series about abuse and violence in adolescent dating and romantic relationships.

Q: What else do we know about teen dating violence and abuse?

A: Several recent studies report teens do not see the negative consequences of dating abuse and violence as reported online on the Pediatric Partners website in an article All About Children. Teens also do not see the relationship between abusive relationships and poor health.

In an online publication from the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there are factors itemized about male and female beliefs that support teen violence and abuse. With boys, they believe they have the rights to control females in any way possible. They define masculinity in terms of physical aggression. They believe in possessive behavior. They feel they should demand intimacy, and they fear loss of respect if they show attention and support toward girlfriends.

Girls have different belief systems. They believe they are the problem-solvers in romantic relationships. They perceive boyfriend jealousy, possessiveness and physical abuse as romantic. They feel abuse is normal as their friends also are being abused. They perceive no one to ask for help.

In a Domestic Violence Action Center online article, there is an explanation about teenagers perceiving only physical violence as abuse. They do not understand verbal and emotional abuse can be even more damaging. As abuse continues, teenage victims begin to believe they are responsible and therefore deserve abuse. They have no insight into the fact violence is cyclic and generally escalates the longer partners stay in a relationship.

In an article from the National Institute of Justice Journal, authors Carrie Mulford, Ph.D., and Peggy C. Giordano, Ph.D., present a gender-based perspective on team dating violence based on current research. Summarizing the findings from three main studies of teenagers, the authors conclude there is frequent mutual aggression between boys and girls in dating relationships. However, the motivations between genders is both different and similar.

The article states both boys and girls report anger as the primary motivation for using violence. Girls also commonly report self-defense as a motive for using violence, whereas boys commonly report the need for control.

The majority of violence studies to date on teens have used acts of violence to measure the extent of violence. These acts include hitting, pushing and slapping. The studies showed slightly more women than men initiated these acts.

Other researchers contend scales based on acts lack information on power and control and emphasize relatively minor forms of aggression. These researchers used data on injuries and in-depth interviews with both victims and perpetrators.

Mulford and Giordano believe both views are problematic because they are adult perspectives about teen violence. There are several key areas of difference between adult and teen romantic relationships.

The power differential is less for teens, as they are not financial partners and do not usually have children. In a study of seventh, ninth and 11th grades in Toledo, Ohio, both boys and girls believed they had equal power. With an imbalance, girls were named more often than boys as the ones more powerful.

Secondly, teens have a lack of experience in negotiating relationships. Poor coping strategies can lead to verbal and physical aggression. Teens in focus groups reported physical aggression resulted from an inability to express feelings and a lack of positive ways to handle frustration.

The third marked difference between adult and teen romances is the influence of peers. Peer attitudes and behavior influence teen dating behavior profoundly. In addition, peers are much more likely to be present in teen dating. Boys have reported if girls hit them in front of friends, they would need to hit back to save face.

Mulford and Giordano emphasize girls practice high levels of physical and emotional abuse, and most teen relationships are mutually aggressive. Thus, both prevention programs and services should be directed toward boys and girls.

According to Violence Against Women Online Resources, statistics on teens do not account for whether female violence was self-defense. The violent acts also do not account for severity of injury or the higher rate of sexual violence experiences of female teens in their dating relationships.

An article on teen dating violence from the Children's Safety Network cited studies showing girls initiate dating violence more often than boys, but are more likely to experience fear and serious injuries, including sexual abuse.

A study on dating violence among Canadian youth, reported by the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, surveyed youth about attitudes toward and experiences with abuse and violence. Results showed 62 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys experienced some form of psychological abuse, such as insults, threats and intimidating behavior. More boys (41 percent) reported they were victims of physical aggression than girls (29 percent). Both boys (40 percent) and girls (44 percent) had experienced sexual coercion. Many teens reported both physical and psychological dating abuse.

* Next week's article will continue with a discussion of red flags and risk factors for teenage dating abuse and violence.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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