Who is more likely to be victimized by teen dating violence? If you’re quick to think it’s girls, new data shows you’re wrong. In a surprising twist, recently published research indicates boys are more likely to report being victims of dating violence committed by partners who hit, slap or push them.
Researchers with the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Simon Fraser University (SFU) conducted a longitudinal study of dating violence. While reports of physical abuse went down over time, they say there is a troubling gender-related trend.
Five percent of teens reported physical abuse from their dating partners in 2013, down from 6 percent in 2003. But in the last year, 5.8 percent of boys reported dating violence compared to 4.2 percent of girls.
“It could be that it’s still socially acceptable for girls to hit or slap boys in dating relationships,” says lead author Catherine Shaffer, a PhD student with SFU, in a release. “This has been found in studies of adolescents in other countries as well.”
Researchers looked at data collected from three British Columbia Adolescent Health Surveys conducted over a 10-year timespan. Participants were 35,900 students in grades 7 through 12 who were in dating relationships. This is the first North American study to compare statistics for boys and girls and the first Canadian study to consider teen dating violence over the course of a decade.
Shaffer believes the overall decline in dating violence is positive. “Young people who experience dating violence are more likely to act out and take unnecessary risks, and they’re also more likely to experience depression or think about or attempt suicide,” she says. “That’s why it’s good to see that decline in dating violence over a 10-year span. It suggests that healthy relationship programs are making an impact among youth.”
Elizabeth Saewyc, senior study author and a UBC nursing professor, thinks the results tell us that teens in dating relationships need more support programs.
“A lot of our interventions assume that the girl is always the victim, but these findings tell us that it isn’t always so,” notes Saewyc. “And relationship violence, be it physical, sexual or other forms, and regardless who the perpetrator is, is never OK. Health-care providers, parents and caregivers, schools and others can protect teens from dating violence by helping them define what healthy relationships look like, even before their first date.”
Physical dating violence (PDV) victimization among adolescents is a serious global problem. Although knowledge of trends in PDV victimization can help guide programming and health policies, little research has examined whether the prevalence of PDV victimization has increased, decreased, or remained stable over time among non-U.S.-based samples of youth.
In addition, few studies have directly tested whether disparities in PDV victimization between boys and girls have narrowed, widened, or remained unchanged in recent years. To address these gaps, we used school-based data from the British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey (BC AHS) of 2003, 2008, and 2013 (n boys = 18,441 and n girls = 17,459) to examine 10-year trends in PDV victimization.
We also tested whether trends differed across self-reported sex. Data from the 2003 to 2013 BC AHS revealed that recent PDV victimization rates had significantly decreased among youth overall (5.9%-5.0%) and boys (8.0%-5.8%), but not girls (5.3%-4.2%). Although boys had steeper declines than girls in PDV victimization rates, year-by-sex interactions indicate that the sex gap in PDV victimization had not significantly narrowed.
Moreover, rates of PDV victimization over the 10-year period indicated significantly higher rates of PDV victimization among boys compared with girls. Despite positive declines in recent rates of PDV victimization among youth, important differences in rates of PDV victimization between boys and girls remain. These findings underscore the need for greater attention to sex differences in research and programming and health policies to reduce PDV victimization and the sex disparities therein.
Researchers say a study is needed to find out why boys are experiencing an increase in dating violence.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
September 27th, 2018