Teens who experience violence in dating relationships are more likely to suffer from domestic abuse as an adult, according to a new study from the University of Calgary.
The study, led by Faculty of Social Work researcher Deinera Exner-Cortens and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, suggests that adolescent dating violence is a strong predictor that someone will suffer future abuse.
Exner-Cortens says her study serves as a wake-up call that dating violence amongst teens needs to be taken more seriously.
“When I talk to adolescents, they may not recognize that what they’re experiencing is dating violence,” Exner-Cortens said. “For a lot of them, it’s their very first encounter in a romantic setting, so they may not know that it’s not healthy.”
“This study strongly demonstrates that violence first experienced in adolescent relationships may become chronic, and that adolescent dating violence is an important risk factor for adult partner violence.”
“From a primary prevention – or stopping it before it starts – standpoint, we want to be communicating healthy relationship messages to adolescents,” she added.
The study is the first to demonstrate, in a U.S. national sample, that adolescent dating violence is related to a cycle of violence from teen to adulthood.
During the study, Exner-Cortens and her colleagues analyzed a sample of 2,161 American male and female heterosexual youth from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health.
Participants were first interviewed about their dating experiences when they were ages 12-18, and then again five and 12 years later.
To measure dating violence, participants were asked if a partner had ever used insults, name-calling or disrespect in front of others; sworn at them; threatened them with violence; pushed or shoved them; or thrown objects that could hurt.
Over a one-year period, about 19 per cent of teen respondents reported dating violence.
Five years after they were first victimized, the study found female victims had almost 1.5 times greater risk for experiencing physical violence from an adult partner; male victims had almost twice the risk for experiencing romantic violence.
The findings were compared to a group who did not experience dating violence, but who were otherwise similar in terms of risk history.
“For a long time adolescent romantic relationships weren’t a focus in research because people thought that they didn’t really matter for well-being,” Exner-Cortens said.
“You have a right to be safe in your relationship, and if a partner ever makes you feel unsafe or hurts you, that’s not OK, and you have a right to leave, and to seek help.”
Based on the findings of her study, Exner-Cortens is calling for improved screening for adolescent dating violence in health-care settings, as well as the need for intervention programs for teens who have experienced abuse in their dating relationships.
The research was supported by funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.