Dating violence study: Nearly 1 in 3 teen girls report multiple abusers

Sept. 19, 2012, 4:07 p.m.

Around 65 percent and 62 percent of teenage females and males, respectively, reported experiencing dating violence. (Made Underground/Flickr Creative Commons)

A startling study suggests that at least one-third of female teens who report experiencing dating violence have had two or more abusive partners.

Research appearing in BMC Public Health looked at nearly 300 college students who recalled being abused by a significant other – whether it was physically, sexually or psychologically – at some point between the ages of 13 and 19.

Around 65 percent of teen girls and young women who were surveyed reported dating violence. Of those:

– 47 percent said they'd had a partner who was controlling
– 58 percent said they'd had a partner who put them down or called them names
– 81 percent had been yelled at, sworn at or insulted by a partner
– 17 percent had been threatened
– 7 percent by had been physically hurt
– 9 percent had been pressured into sex after being threatened

A slightly lower percentage of teen boys and young men – around 62 percent – reported abuse as well. Of those:

– 47 percent said they'd been yelled at, sworn at or insulted by a partner
– 29 percent had gotten unwanted calls, texts or visits
– 20 percent said they'd had a partner who was controlling
– 16 percent had been put down or called names by their partner
– 10 percent said they'd been threatened
– 12 percent said they'd been pressured into sex when their partner begged

Dating violence among teens of both genders, said the study, "was rarely reported as an isolated incident."

Multiple abusers

As lead author of the study Amy Bonomi said in a statement, for about one in three teens, the abuse "may have been the start of a trend."

The researchers didn't expect that.

"Our studies of adults showed that most women and men had only one abusive partner, so it was startling to find the number of teens who had two or more," said Bonomi.

Olivia Rodriguez, the executive director of L.A. County's Domestic Violence Council, noted that the study was carried out in Ohio, so results may be regional. Although she said there aren't similar studies that focus specifically on the county, from discussions she's had with various domestic violence agencies, teen dating violence does seem to have escalated over the past decade.

Rodriguez offered a couple reasons as to why that might be.

"The domestic violence victims that we have interviewed and talked to here and through the shelters – I would say 99 percent were raised in a family where they saw their father or the mother's partner physically abuse the mother," she said. "So I'm wondering if that's the cause, because I think it would be a great contributor."

She also noted that language has gotten a lot "more abusive than it was 20 to 25 years ago."

"The word 'bitch' is used very frequently and very nonchalantly, and most of the time it is toward a female, even though boys and males use it to address each other as well," Rodriguez said. "But primarily it's more toward women and a lot of people don't seem to object to hearing that language."

That, she said, plus the sexual charge of many current-day advertisements, has contributed to a major objectification of women in a lot of folks' minds. That may be why the effects of verbal abuse are underestimated, as the study's authors suggested in their report.

"Young people don't think about that," Rodriguez continued. "Even adult women don't necessarily think about that sometimes because women in domestic violence relationships tend to minimize situations." Rodriguez works with adult women, who she says will often rationalize the situation by convincing themselves that a male partner's use of the words "whore" or "bitch," for example, is just the way he talks.

Rodriguez imagines it's that way with teens, as well. "I think because people probably don't want to admit that's abusive language, it's allowed and continues to be used very frequently," she said.

"But I would imagine that it escalates as well, like it does with adult women," she added.

The report also noted that different kinds of abuse began at different ages. Among those reporting violence, almost 45 percent of teen girls and young women first experienced controlling behavior between the ages of 13 and 15, while being pressured into sex began a couple years later. For males, name-calling and put-downs began between the ages of 13 and 15.

Rodriguez said if you are or someone you know is being abused, you should call the L.A. Domestic Violence 24-Hour Hotline: 1-800-978-3600.

OnCentral recently spoke with a domestic violence survivor who spent 15 years in prison on manslaughter charges for killing her abuser. You can read Kelli's story here.

Photo by Made Underground via Flickr Creative Commons.

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