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The problem of adolescent violence has long presented a challenge to both public Social Work system and the researchers developing critical concepts in the respective study area. The problem is further exacerbated by the pronounced lack of recognition of its severity on behalf of the policy makers and the general public at large (Suarez, 1994, p.424). The problem of dating violence is inextricably connected with the issue of domestic violence in general; the adolescent dating habits are likely to have an impact on the future marital relations of the teenagers affected by violence (Wolfe & Jaffe, 1999, pp.139-140). Exact causation patterns of adolescent violence in romantic relationships are a disputable issue, although one may infer that they may be connected with either social learning habits (Riggs & O’Leary, 1989, pp.53-71) or general societal structure conditioned by the prevalence of patriarchal relations in the family (Wolfe & Jaffe, 1999). Still, notwithstanding the causation issue, it is understandable that teen violence evokes an interest of a sizable part of the social researchers, while not being either adequately covered by existing research or subjected to the lawmakers’ attention. Together with its social significance, this may necessitate a more in-depth analysis of the problem of teen violence in dating.
Proceeding from these considerations, this study shall have for its purpose a verifiable analysis and estimation of (a) the scale of teen dating violence problems in current American society, (b) the present state and situation of adolescent dating violence prevention programs, with both primary and secondary prevention perspectives being reviewed, and (c) possible perspectives and instruments (both scientific and legislative) that may be utilized for the problem’s amelioration. In total, findings produced by this study would contribute to a more systematic understanding of the teen dating violence problem, its further implications, and possible amelioration methods.
The research in adolescent violence in romantic relationships necessitates the coverage of several issues that define the essence of the subject matter. Of these, the problems of adolescent violence definition, socio-cultural issues in teen dating violence occurrences (i.e. gender, mental health, age, sexual orientation, etc.), and prevention of dating violence among teenagers appear to be most significant and amply covered in the extant professional literature. Therefore, this section will deal with the review of literature (specifically, peer-reviewed journal publications) presenting the researchers’ attitude with respect to the aforementioned issues.
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Dating violence definition. The adolescent dating violence definition presents certain problems that would seem likely to be superfluous to most observers. Broadly speaking, two perspectives present themselves here: the one focusing on the conflation of dating violence with the use of force and/or threat of force (Bookwala, Frieze, Smith & Ryan, 1992), and the other which associates dating violence with the concepts of indirect and concealed sexual and psychological abuse (Halpern, Oslak, Young, Martin, & Cooper, 2001). The examples of both perspectives may be found in varied professional literature on this subject; for instance, Lavoie, Robitaille, & Hebert (2000) define dating violence as including any behavioral practices being “prejudicial to the partner’s development or health by compromising his or her physical, psychological, or sexual identity” (2000, p.8). This definition would significantly broaden the scope of the violence instances covered by the extant teen dating violence research, instead of focusing on the issues of purely physical violence or the alleged intimidation to use the former, as suggested by Bookwala et al (1992). Finally, Wolitzky-Taylor et al. (2008) focus on “serious” dating violence, which is then defined as “physical and/or sexual assault in the context of a dating relationship” (2008, p.755); such differentiation may prove useful for the more in-depth study of dating violence issues.
Furthermore, the more exquisite versions of the dating violence definition focus on exact differentiation between diverse functional dimensions of dating violence framework. The emphasis is laid on the dichotomies between verbal/nonverbal acts of aggression that may be expressed through either emotional abuse or more direct threats and other acts of violence, which are in turn correlated with the relationship’s power dynamics (Wekerle & Wolfe, 1999).
According to Teten et al. (2009), the definition of dating violence should encompass three core dimensions of violent dating behavior, i.e. “emotional/psychological, physical and sexual aggression” (2009, p.923). Furthermore, White (2009) regards adolescent dating violence as “a wide variety of harm-doing behaviors among adolescents, typically defined as teenagers, in dyadic interactions” (2009, p.1). The author proposes to consider gendered social constructs as instrumental in producing and perpetuating dating violence patterns among the adolescents.
Proceeding from these considerations, one may remark that adolescent (teen) dating violence encompasses the instances and habits of engaging in physical, verbal, emotional and sexual violence against the other partner in romantic relationships that occur within the age of adolescence (operationally defined to be connected with the physiological period of “puberty and transitions from elementary to middle to junior to high school”; White, 2009, p.1).
Adolescent dating violence and gender. The gender-based differences in adolescent dating violence have recently come under intense scrutiny on behalf of the respective researchers. According to findings published by Molidor & Tolman (1998), the cross-gender responses to dating violence incidents were manifestly different among male and female adolescents; while the former reported the absence of tangible effects from the violence by a romantic partner (in 90% of instances), females regarded serious harm (47.8%) or even physical injury (33.6%) as frequent consequences of their exposure to dating violence (Callahan, Tolman, & Saunders, 2003, p.666). Similar data findings are mentioned by Teten et al. (2009); according to the results of national surveys reported by the authors, “3-10% of adolescent girls reported being a victim of physical (10%) and/or sexual (3%) assault by a dating partner in their lifetimes” (Teten et al., 2009, p.924). Moreover, the 57% teen dating prevalence rate was reported by “more extensive studies” for physical assaults, that of 43% for sexual and 65% for verbal abuse (Teten et al., 2009, p.924). These data demonstrate that female teenagers are much more likely to suffer from adolescent dating violence than their male counterparts.
Following these findings, an issue of cross-gender dating violence prevalence among the adolescents should be explored. While such authors as Riggs & O’Leary (1989) assume that dating violence frequencies are virtually uniform among high school and college-age males and females, Molidor & Tolman (1998), applying feminist perspective to the respective research, asserted that dating abuse patterns are more skewed towards the prevalence of less severe forms of dating violence among boys, while girls are more likely to experience moderate to severe physical violence. In particular, out of the total sample made by these researchers, 23.3% of the girls who ever dated reported having experience moderate physical violence from their partners; 27.1% mentioned that they had been subjected to severe physical violence (Molidor & Tolman, 1998, p.185).
Kreiter et al. (1999) examined the presence of risk-specific behaviors among the adolescents that reported date fighting with their romantic partners. According to their findings, female middle and high school students were characterized by higher frequency of risk behavior occurrence, with 4.2% females reporting that their last fight experience involved the violence from their date partners, as opposed to 1.8% among males (Kreiter et al., 1999). Using the data collected from the sample of 60.8% of 8th to 12th grade students in 79 randomly selected Vermont public and private schools, Kreiter et al. (1999) attempted to isolate key factors predictive of the dating violence risks in accordance with the interviewees’ gender. For female students, the risk factors examined in the data analysis model utilized by these researchers would include the number of male sexual partners for the last 3 months (adjusted odds ratio: 1.48; 95% confidence interval: 1.26–1.74), number of suicide attempts in past 12 months (1.55; 1.30–1.85), numbers of times riding in car driven by a drinking driver for last 30 days (1.23; 1.10–1.37), numbers of time of injection of illegal drugs in lifetime (2.87; 1.10–7.50), alcohol use before sexual encounter frequency (1.53; 1.27–1.86), number of times pregnant (1.66; 1.26–2.21), forced sex (2.92; 2.18–3.91), and sniffed or inhaled drugs use frequency (1.19; 1.06–1.34). On the contrary, male students’ risk factors were mainly related to sexual activity (4.11; 2.24–7.53), number of male partners in past 3 months (1.40; 1.12–1.75), number of times gotten someone pregnant (1.68; 1.17–2.40), forced sex frequency (2.38; 1.11–5.13), and the number of times threatened with physical violence in past 12 months (1.82; 1.53–2.17). Further information on these variables is presented in Kreiter et al. (1999, pp.1288-1289).
Therefore, one may conclude that dating violence prevalence is directly correlated with the victims’ gender, as female adolescents are generally more likely to suffer from this type of abuse than the male ones. Thus, any successful dating violence prevention strategy centered on the teenagers ought to take this factor into consideration.
Mental health and teen dating violence. The problem of the possible correlation between mental health and /or developmental issues, on the one hand, and adolescent dating violence prevalence has likewise been considered in the professional literature. Wolitzky-Taylor et al. (2008) conducted a nationally representative survey of 12- to 17-year old adolescents through a telephone interview, with mental health issues being delineated as one of the factors assumed to have an impact on adolescent dating frequency. In particular, the possible correlation between dating violence and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and / or major depressive episode (MDE) has been included in the study’s hypothesis (Wolitzky-Taylor et al., 2008, p.756). After controlling for demographic factors (i.e. the participants’ allegiance to any ethnic/racial community), the researchers established a strong correlation between PTSD and other prior traumatic experience, on the one hand, and dating violence prevalence, on the other. In particular, 6.13 and 2.53 OR (odds ratios) were observed for “other traumas” and “stressful events” as dating violence predictor factors (Wolitzky-Taylor et al., 2008, p.758). Moreover, participants with the history of dating violence were increasingly likely to be affected with PTSD and / or MDE psychological disorder, with 3.58 OR for the correlation between prior dating violence and PTSD likelihood (2008, p.758).
In the other study, Ackard & Neumark-Sztainer (2002) analyzed associations between date violence and rape, on the one hand, and disordered eating behaviors and psychopathology issues. A sample of 81,247 male and female students in 9th to 12th grade of the State of Minnesota public and private schools was selected for research hypothesis testing. Ackard & Neumark-Sztainer (2002) found that a moderate to strong correlation was observed between date violence and high rates of eating disorder and / or suicidality. After applying demographic controls (i.e. accounting for race and age differences among the participants), the researchers established 5.78 and 6.66 OR between suicidality and date violence for female and male students, respectively. This correlation rate points at high degree of interdependence between date violence and rape, on the one hand, and suicidal thoughts and emotional disorders, on the other.
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These studies’ findings seem to indicate that mental and developmental issues play an important role in predicting adolescent dating violence prevalence rates. Thus, examination of the impact of psychological and psychopathological disorders on high school students’ dating violence patterns shall play an integral part in this study.
Students’ age as an adolescent dating violence predictor. The factor of age in determining teen dating violence’s likelihood has been analyzed in the context of several studies. In particular, in their study of adolescent girls’ exposure to dating violence, Silverman, Raj, & Clements (2004) reported that in case of the girls younger than 14, a reduced risk of violent encounter on the dates was registered for previous 12 months (N = 711). At the same time, girls aged 15 to 16 appeared to be most vulnerable, with N = 1631 and 1828, respectively. Subsequently, risk variables were reported to be diminishing with age progression, as girls aged 18 and higher characterized by N variable of 955 (Silverman, Raj, & Clements, 2004, p. e222).
A similar perspective was offered by Wingood et al. (2001) in their study of dating violence patterns among adolescent African American females aged 14 to 18. Applying a bivariate analysis technique, the researchers established that the participants with prior history of dating violence (operationally defined as females older than 15) were characterized by higher STD frequencies, more pronounced fears over pregnancy prevention, and lesser control over sexuality perception (41.7%, 19.4%, and 66.1%, accordingly). Respective variables for younger females with no history of dating violence were 22.1%, 7.0%, and 45.3%. Thus, a direct correlation between the victim’s age and violence dating risk may be noted.
Sexual orientation and dating violence among teenagers. Finally, the problem of possible correlation between sexual orientation and adolescent dating violence is to be addressed here. Halpern et al. (2004) presented a study of 117 adolescents aged 12-21 who reported being engaged in exclusively same-sex romantic or sexual relationships. From the researchers’ findings, it would appear that same-sex adolescent partners exhibit the same dichotomy of dating violence risks as their heterosexual peers, with males being less likely to report any serious harm from dating violence. Hence, it may be concluded that no significant divergence in dating violence’s gender patterns has been observed from the studies of same-sex dating violence among teenagers.
Prevention strategies for teen dating violence. Following on the literature themes explored above, it is necessary to analyze the problem of strategy building for the purposes of ameliorating the teen dating violence problem. In this respect, two approaches are identified by the available scholarly literature. The former deals with pprimary prevention strategies, the latter with the secondary ones. Hence, it is necessary to briefly review the literature pertaining to both of them.
Following Cornelius & Resseguie (2007), primary prevention may be defined as the prevention programs that “aim to circumvent violence in dating relationship before it occurs” (2007, p.366). Such prevention strategies administered to adolescents and high-school age youth (13 to 18 years) may be focused on school-based awareness and skill development, with the “emphasis on issues related to dating violence and forming healthy intimate relationships” (Wolfe & Jaffe, 1999, p.137). Secondary prevention strategies would focus on “violence that is already occurring in the relationship” (Cornelius & Resseguie, 2007, p.366), with specific attention to community-based amelioration instruments. Further, Wolfe & Jaffe (1999) delineate the tertiary prevention strategies’ category, which is “targeted to victims and perpetrators after domestic violence is evident” (1999, p.137). This would include the utilization of juvenile justice and / or law enforcement instruments, and is thus beyond the scope of this study’s research design.
Therefore, the review of professional literature connected with the issues of teen dating abuse and its prevention showed that the problem under consideration is both well-researched and lacking in some aspects. Specifically, the integration of the quantitative data findings obtained by prior research with the more qualitative-based research perspective is warranted in order to place the dating violence problems within the broader picture of teenagers’ shared social experience. Hence, this study’s research design will take account of this issue.
General research design. Proceeding from these considerations, a mixed research design shall be selected for the present study, with both qualitative and quantitative methods used. On the quantitative scale, a comparison of the available datasets based on nationally representative surveys for adolescent dating violence prevalence shall be made, with appropriate measurements for validity and probability of these surveys’ findings. In addition, the issue of statistical errors and / or extrapolation penalties shall be addressed. The qualitative research perspective would focus on integrating the findings derived from the application of the grounded theory analysis of the quantitative data findings. In so doing, the three-stage coding strategy described by Strauss & Corbin (1990) shall be employed. At the open coding stage, salient categories of dating abuse factors and prevention programs shall be delineated, with respective properties (sub-categories) being explored. At the second stage, the axial coding process would come to the fore, with special emphasis on causal relationships among the categories and their properties. Finally, selective coding would be focused on the core interrelationships between the study’s central phenomenon and its other categories. This would culminate in the construction of the respective conditional matrix (Creswell, 2007, p.161).
Therefore, the research strategy to be used in this study may be operationally defined as a sequential transformative strategy, with the priority being given to qualitative data analysis (Creswell, 2003, pp.216-217). Through these procedures, a contextual interpretation of the comparative efficacy and relevance of various adolescent dating violence prevention programs may be presented, so that researchers and policy makers alike would be able to utilize these findings in their work. Furthermore, the combination of quantitative data collection and qualitative data analysis methods would enrich the research perspective at large.
Research questions. In accordance with the study’s purpose statement, four research questions may be delineated for the present research:
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- What is the median dating violence prevalence rate among the U.S. adolescents enrolled in 9th to 12th school grades?
- How may the impact of various determinants (i.e. gender, age, sexual orientation, etc.) be compared when dealing with adolescent dating violence issue?
- What is the comparative efficacy of various teen dating violence prevention programs, given the data at hand?
- In what way may these programs be improved, in order to fully conform to their goals and purposes?
Research hypotheses. In view of these research questions and the literature review of the problem coverage provided above, it is possible to present four research hypotheses as the former’s plausible outcomes:
- The median teen dating violence prevalence rate for the 9th to 12th school grades is likely to exceed 50%, with females being more likely to be victimized than males;
- The core factor informing adolescent dating violence’s likelihood is that of gender, being followed by psychological and psychopathological health issues, age, substance use, and sexual orientation, respectively;
- Primary prevention programs would appear to be more effective in dealing with the causes and prerequisites for teen dating violence occurrences than the secondary ones – in dealing with the amelioration of already extant problems;
- The teen dating violence prevention programs should focus on aiding the particularly risk-averse adolescent groups, as defined in terms of their gender, developmental and psychological issues and age categories, in developing the means and resolve to oppose and uncover their abuse perpetrators.
The aforementioned hypotheses would be understood within a framework of grounded theory qualitative data analysis, with gender identified as the study’s central phenomenon. Subsequently, all other categories (i.e. age, developmental and psychological factors, sexual orientation, etc.) would be viewed through the lens of their causal connections therewith.
Ethical and legal ramifications. Within the abovementioned theoretical framework, ethical and legal ramifications of the research would involve the procurement of information from both educational institutions and state authorities’ datasets on the relevant problem, which would entail the need to follow on the respective procedures established for such cases. This would present a special challenge in receiving national-level survey data for specific annual periods, which would be necessary for constructing a research’s temporal perspective.
As this study would not necessarily involve the conduct of the authentic representative sampling, ethical issues involved appear to be relatively negligible. However, the provisions for maintaining the privacy of the previous surveys’ participants would still apply, so that this might be the most serious ethical issue for the present research.
Given the overall research design and the research hypotheses based thereon, one may infer that this research is likely to demonstrate the statistical significance of the adolescent dating violence problem, the advantages of primary prevention-based amelioration strategy, and the centrality of gender for evaluating the problem under consideration. Furthermore, given the literature review provided above, one may expect that this study’s findings will both be in line with the prior scholarship and enable the researcher to contribute to the problem’s further analysis and amelioration.
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