Teenage Girls Involved in Abusive Dating Relations

Teenage Girls Involved in Abusive Dating Relationships

Aggression in teenage dating leading to physical, emotional and psychological damage is a social problem not only because of its effects on the teenagers but also because of its prevalence.

Howard and Qi Wang (2003) report figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that overall the prevalence of non-sexual courtship violence ranges from 9% to 65%, depending on the definitions and research methods used. Howard and Qi Wang’s study reported “almost one in ten of the 9th- through 12th-grade females who participated in the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported being a victim of physical dating violence (i.e., had been hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose) within the past year.” Further studies and figures report that about one in five of adolescent girls has experienced dating violence. Some of the physically abusive behaviors perpetrated in dating include being scratched, slapped, slammed or held against a wall, kicked, bitten, forced to have sex, choked, and pushed, grabbed, or shoved, as well as having their arms twisted and fingers bent. Dating violence or abuse refers not only to physical violence but also to the psychological and emotional abuse that can result from the relationship. Some of the reported psychological victimization in a dating relationship include “their partners did something to make them feel jealous, damaged their possessions, said things to hurt their feelings, insulted them in front of others, tried to control them, threatened them, blamed them for bad things the dating partners did, and brought up something from the past to hurt them” (James et. Al.2000). These effects indicate that dating violence among adolescents is not only a social issue but also a health issue and even an educational one, since the emotional and psychological damage affects the student’s ability to concentrate and attend school effectively.

Why do boys abuse?

O’Keefe (1997 in James et al., 2000) reported that high school males were more likely to harm a dating partner if they had witnessed interparental violence, believed that male-female dating violence was justifiable, used alcohol or other drugs, were the recipients of dating violence, and had experienced more conflict in their dating relationships. Additional research by O’Keefe (1998 in James et. Al 2000) indicated that among adolescent males who witnessed high levels of violence between their parents, those who abused their dating partners were differentiated from those who had violence-free relationships by the following variables: low socioeconomic status, exposure to community and school violence, acceptance of violence in dating relationships, and low self-esteem. A fundamental factor found to lead to problems in relationships in adolescence is child abuse. The cumulative effects of maltreatment during childhood affect the mental health and ability of the adolescent to manage his own emotions and to interpret and adjust to others’ emotions. This leads to problems in interpersonal reactions with peers.

Warning signs that male is abusive

Bush (2002) presents a comprehensive list of signs of teen dating abuse. Things to specifically look for in the boy’s behavior include calling her name or putting her down in private or public, always checking up on her, calling or paging her and demanding to know where she is at all times. Jealousy when she talks to other boys is another sure sign. Girls should also be aware of how the boy handles his emotions especially anger. If he displays anger behavior such as breaking things or hitting, chances are that he will display abusive behavior in the relationship.

Alcohol consumption in the male is another sign that sexual abusiveness may occur.

What kind of girls become targeted.

Behavioral correlates associated with dating violence victimization, among girls at least, include use of a variety of illicit substances, unhealthy weight control practices, sexual risk behaviors, and suicidality. Howard and Qi Wang’s study reported three main variables that correlated with girls being abused while dating. These were emotional state of the girls, (a recent experience of having felt sad or hopeless was associated with over a twofold increase in the likelihood of being a victim of dating violence), use of illicit substances, (girls who reported binge drinking and cocaine use over the previous month were also more likely to be victims), and sexual risk behaviors, (those who did not use condoms or had two or more partners in the previous three months). Further, James et al. (2000) include poor school performance, and experiencing child abuse as additional factors that differentiated females who experienced dating violence and those who did not.

However although some studies show a predominance of factors that tend to suggest the type of girl that are prone to dating violence, it is important not to give in to stereotypes. Otherwise it might lead researchers and others to miss some girls who really need help but may not fit into the stereotypes.

Detrimental effects on the females.

It is obvious that any kind of physical or emotional abuse will have detrimental effects on the victim. Although the physical scars may eventually fade, emotional scars are harder to eliminate.

Feelings of fear and low self-esteem linger long after the abuse has ended, especially if the victim has not had opportunities to be counseled and supported to heal from the hurts. High-school girls who were victims of dating violence have been found to be eight to nine times more likely to attempt suicide and four to six times more likely to become pregnant than peers who weren’t abused. Gillies-Bradley and Wagner (2003) report, “About 80% of the pregnant and parenting teens who seek assistance from Family Service Regina are victims of dating abuse.”

Further, physical aggression in adolescent romantic relationships may be associated with the learning of maladaptive conflict resolution techniques that will be used in future romantic relationships. (Chase et al. 1998).

Significance of the problem.

As stated before the significance of this problem is reflected in the high prevalence of violence, both physical and mental, experienced by teenage girls from males who they are supposedly close to. Rickert et al. (2003) state, “Adolescent and young adult women report the highest rates of violence perpetrated by an intimate partner. In fact, women aged 16 to 24 years experienced the highest per capita rates of intimate partner violence (IPV), with 19.6 victims per 1,000 women.”

Since forced sexual contact between dating partners is not always considered rape, it is difficult for the girl to report and be appropriately treated for what can be considered a violent act in a relationship. Many girls therefore are hesitant to report or seek help if a dating partner has abused them.

One of the consequences of dating violence is seen in the subsequent sexual behavior of the teenager. According to Rickert et al. (2003), “data recently published suggest that African-American females who had a history of dating violence were almost three times more likely to have an STD, to have nonmonogamous male partners, and half as likely to use condoms consistently than those African-American females without such a history. These adolescents were also significantly more likely to be afraid of the perceived consequences of negotiating condom use and fearful of talking to their partner about pregnancy prevention.”

Current preventative and therapeutic interventions.

Given the prevalence of violent behavior by boys in romantic relationships, intervention efforts should be targeted at girls who have risk profiles for victimization. Such programs may concurrently impact other forms of violence and sexual behavior outcomes.

The situation underscores the need to include programs that focus on sexual behavior among adolescent girls, as well as boys, with the aim of discouraging risky sexual practices, including intercourse with multiple partners and nonuse of condoms. At the same time, intervention efforts should be targeted at the perpetrators of dating violence, so as not to further the impression of blaming the victim.

James et al. (2000) suggest that prevention programs focused on adolescent dating violence need to include lessons and role-playing related to one-sided and mutually violent relationships (e.g., discussions should cover the characteristics and consequences of such relationships). Health providers and educators need to ensure that adolescents are taught social skills to replace the use of psychologically and physically abusive, controlling behaviors in dating relationships, and are given opportunities to reappraise beliefs about gender roles.

One organization, The Empower Program, based in Washington, D.C., goes into schools, churches and community centers to talk with young women — and men — about teen dating violence. Shanterra McBride, director of education and programs at Empower, conducts workshops designed to help girls recognize abuse, escape it and counsel friends who may be caught up in violent relationships

When Love Hurts is a program offered through Family Service Regina that attempts to respond to the needs of young women, who are parents and are currently in or have been in an abusive dating relationship. It is a 13-week educational and therapeutic support group for young women of ages from 14 to 22. The group focuses on relationships, self-esteem, assertiveness, cycle of abuse, effects of abuse on children, and healthy lifestyle choices. The young women in the group can be self-referred, or through their school social workers or guidance counselors.

The benefits of this type of group include ending the isolation of these teen mothers who have been abused and helping them to deal with their helplessness. The group also helps the women to reclaim their self-esteem by providing them with an increased awareness and understanding of the different forms and types of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. This helps them to identify what is abusive in their own relationship and what it is that keeps them in their relationships. They are given information about relationships that are healthy and equal.


The issue of dating violence is not a simple one. There are obviously many factors involved and the relationship of these factors to each other is not totally clear. For example, I would like to have more clarification on whether physical dating violence precipitates the sad and/or hopeless emotions or whether it is the reverse. In addition, it could be argued that, in an attempt to cope with the emotional, social, and physical experience of victimization, girls may have resorted to drug or alcohol use. It would also be useful to determine if other factor account for both substance use and sad/hopeless feelings. Further, having multiple sex partners might be at the fulcrum of antecedent factors that put adolescent girls at risk for courtship violence. Future research could help to establish the temporality of the factors associated with dating violence against girls, not only in regard to sexual behaviors but emotional health as well. Longitudinal studies, initiated well before adolescence, would also add more data and shed light on these important relationships.

The research is by no means complete. Some of the questions that could still be addressed are: Do violent adolescents seek out dating partners who are also violent? Does the violence escalate as a result of duration, frequency, and exclusivity of dating? I would also like to see an evaluation of age, gender, ethnic background, family history, educational level, and other factors that might mitigate, or contribute to, adolescent dating violence.


Bush, Vanessa. (2002). A thin line between love and hate: dating violence strikes one in every five teenage girls. Essence November 2002. Retrieved November 7th,2003, from www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m1264/7_33/96384286/print.jhtml.

Gillies-Bradley & Wagner Tammy L. (2003). When love hurts. Briarpatch, 32(2), 18-19.

Howard, Donna E. & Qi Wang, Min. (2003). Risk profiles of adolescent girls who were victims of dating violence. Adolescence Spring 2003. Retrieved November 7th,2003, from www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m2248/149_38/103381757/print.jhtml.

James, William H., West, Carolyn, Deters, Karla Ezrre, Amigo, Eduardo. (2000). Youth dating violence. Adolescence Fall 2000. Retrieved November 7th, 2003, from www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m2248/139_35/68535843/print.jhtml

Rickert, Vaughn I., Vaughan, Roger D., Wiemann, Constance M. (2003). Violence against young women: Implications for clinicians. Contemporary OB/GYN,2,30-45

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