About 3 per cent of 12- to 17-year-old girls are physically or sexually assaulted by a boyfriend or date, a US study suggests.
In interviews with a nationally representative sample of US teens, researchers found that 2.7 per cent of girls and 0.6 per cent of boys said they had been the victim of serious dating violence — including physical abuse, sexual assault or being threatened with a weapon.
The findings offer some insight into the prevalence of the problem, as well as some of its consequences, according to lead researcher Kate B Wolitzky-Taylor who is now at the University of Texas at Austin.
She and her colleagues at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, found that teenagers who said they'd been the victims of dating violence were nearly four times more likely to have experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression.
“Overall, these findings suggest that dating violence in adolescence is a significant public health issue to address, particularly for older adolescent girls,” the researchers report in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
The study did not look at less-severe forms of violence, such as being shoved or slapped without injury, and it did not assess verbal abuse. So the percentage of teenagers in abusive relationships may be much higher.
The bottom line, according to the researchers, is that dating violence needs to be detected early — by parents, doctors or school assessment — and prevented whenever possible.
Teaching middle school students how to handle conflicts in their relationships, for example, might help them later on to manage romantic relationships and possibly prevent violence, the researchers note.
In addition, Wolitzky-Taylor told Reuters Health that teenagers who have a friend in a violent dating relationship should be taught to report the situation to an adult.
The study also found that certain factors seemed to put teens at greater risk of dating violence - such as a history of stressful or potentially traumatic events, like witnessing violence or losing a parent, sibling or friend.
Older teenage girls were also at greater risk than boys or younger girls. Wolitzky-Taylor said, “We might want to be more on the lookout for signs of dating violence in teenagers with risk factors.”