Studies indicate that more than 1.5 million US women are physically and/or sexually abused each year by an intimate partner, and 25 percent of women will experience intimate partner violence (IPV) at some point in their lifetimes. Individual studies have shown that approximately 25 percent of adolescents have experienced physical and/or sexual dating violence. This study sought to look at the lifetime prevalence of physical and sexual dating violence experienced by adolescents in order to examine the scope of the problem, indicate which groups may be at greatest risk, and assess whether other health risks faced by adolescents are associated with a history of IPV.
Most IPV is directed at women. The rate of IPV against females is three to six times that of IPV against males. In addition, injuries are significant and more common among females. According to Uniform Crime Reports from the US Department of Justice, females are 10 times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than are males. For these reasons, research and prevention efforts have been focused upon violence against female partners.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is conducted in each state every two years to track the incidence and prevalence of leading causes of morbidity and mortality of US high school students. Each state is charged with administering the written self-report as designed by the CDC. States are allowed to add questions in order to assess adolescent health concerns.
In 1997, the Massachusetts YRBS began to include a question assessing lifetime prevalence of physical and sexual violence from dating partners. The Massachusetts YRBS was administered in both 1997 and 1999 to 9th- through 12th-grade students in randomly selected classrooms within selected high schools in the state. Of the 5,026 students selected in 1997, 3,982 completed the survey. Using an identical method, 67 Massachusetts's public high schools were chosen for the 1999 YRBS. There were 64 schools participating. A total of 4,415 of the 5,589 students completed the survey in 1999.
Approximately one in five female students reported being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. An estimated one in ten adolescent girls reported being physically abused by a date but did not experience sexual violence. Approximately one in 25 participants reported ever being sexually assaulted by a date and not experiencing physical dating violence. A larger number (6.4 percent in 1997 and 5.3 percent in 1999) reported both sexual and physical assaults by dating partners. There were significant differences across race and ethnic backgrounds. Black female students appear to be more likely than individuals from other groups to report sexual violence in the absence of physical violence.
Multivariate analyses regression equations designed to include demographic and other health risks that might confound data related to both dating violence and health risks indicated that "experience of physical dating violence continued to be associated with heavy smoking, cocaine use, use of diet pills, laxatives, and/or vomiting to lose weight, intercourse before age 15 years, pregnancy, and both considering and attempting suicide." Not using a condom at last intercourse was also associated with IPV, as were binge drinking and having three or more sex partners in the past three months.
The authors concluded the article by stressing that the most pressing need for IPV research "involves the development of this behavior among perpetrators of abuse against dating partners. Parents and peers appear to play a role in supporting adolescent males' violence toward dating partners, but we know little of the other social contexts and experiences that make perpetration of IPV more likely. Moreover, we know even less about what developmental factors make this behavior less likely."
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