One In Five Teenage Girls Experiences Dating Violence

Approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The violence that teenage girls experience is strongly associated with such grave health problems as substance abuse, unhealthy weight control, risky sexual behavior, pregnancy and attempts to commit suicide.

Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Use, Unhealthy Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality is the first study to ask adolescents if they have faced dating violence. It explores the prevalence of teen dating violence, and the immediate and lasting effects that abuse has on teenage girls. It is based on the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which was conducted in 1997 with 1,977 female high school students, and in 1999, with 2,186 female high school students.

The YRBS is conducted in all states every two years, but the Massachusetts survey is the only one to include a question about teen dating violence. It asked if participants had "ever been hurt physically or sexually by a date or someone they were going out with. This would include being shoved, slapped, hit, or forced into any sexual activity."

Dating Violence was written by Jay G. Silverman, PhD; Anita Raj, PhD; Lorelei A. Mucci, MPH; and Jeanne E. Hathaway, MD, MPH. The study appears in JAMA, Vol. 286, No. 5. The themes of this JAMA issue are violence and human rights.

Prevalence of Dating Violence

Dating Violence finds that dating violence is widespread among teens and may be higher for teens than for adult women. Approximately one in five female high school students (20.2 percent in 1997 and 18.0 in 1999) reports being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.

Of the girls who experienced dating violence, "a large number" report being both sexually and physically assaulted by dating partners, according to the survey. In 1997, 6.4 percent of girls reported experiencing both forms of violence. In 1999, 5.3 percent reported experiencing both sexual and physical violence. The study also finds that girls more commonly experience physical and not sexual violence than sexual and not physical violence. An estimated one in ten adolescent girls (10.1 percent in 1997 and 8.9 percent in 1999) reports being physically and not sexually assaulted by a date. Approximately one in 25 girls (3.7 percent in 1997 and 3.8 percent in 1999) reports being sexually assaulted by a date and not experiencing physical violence.

Dating Violence examines the link between race and dating violence, but concludes that its findings are "inconclusive regarding racial/ethnic differences in reports of dating violence." Of the 5.3 percent of girls who reported experiencing physical and sexual violence in the 1999 survey, 5.4 percent were white, two percent were black, 4.7 percent Hispanic, 5.7 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and ten percent were classified as "other."

Dating Violence also explores the correlation between dating violence and age, finding that younger adolescent girls are less likely to experience dating violence. This finding "may be due to reduced opportunity for such experiences among younger girls based on relatively lower prevalence of dating or sexual activity," according to the study.

Harmful Impact on Health

Dating violence has serious, negative effects on teenage girls. Dating Violence finds that both physical and sexual dating violence can lead to health risk behaviors, and girls who report experiencing abuse are at "significantly elevated risk for a broad range of serious health concerns." These risks include: being more likely to use alcohol, tobacco and cocaine; engaging in unhealthy weight control; engaging in risky sexual behavior; and seriously considering or attempting suicide. Teen dating violence can also lead to risky or unhealthy sexual tendencies and pregnancy. According to the study, girls who report experiencing both physical and sexual violence are "more likely" to report having early first intercourse - before the age of 15 - and having multiple recent sexual partners (three or more in the three months before the study). Victims of both physical and sexual violence also report engaging in sexual intercourse without using a condom more often.

These behaviors, Dating Violence finds, makes victims of dating violence more vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted diseases than girls who were not abused by dating partners. Girls who report experiencing teen dating violence are "four to six times more likely than their non- abused peers to have ever been pregnant."

Violence Prevention

"These findings are deeply disturbing," said Family Violence Prevention Fund Executive Director Esta Soler. "This study should serve as a wake-up call to the nation that our youth are at great risk for relationship violence. We have to do more to protect girls and to teach boys that violence is always wrong. Violence begins early and we have to stop it early."

Dating Violence calls for further research to explore the correlation between dating violence and risky behaviors. It also stresses the need to expand dating violence prevention programs and develop effective prevention strategies for both victims and perpetrators. Health care professionals can play a "crucial role" in identifying and offering assistance to victims of dating violence, the authors say, calling on health care providers to address dating violence among their patients. "Medical and mental health professionals should routinely screen adolescents for dating violence and be aware of appropriate referrals," they write.

Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Use, Unhealthy Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality can be ordered online through JAMA's web site,

Source: Texas Department of Family and Protective Services