Teen Dating Violence Part 4: Sexual Violence
Science Staff: May 2018
This article is the fourth in a series of articles written by Medical Institute (MI) science staff on the issue of Teen Dating Violence (TDV). This fourth article will focus on sexual violence within teen romantic relationships. Certainly there is overlap between psychological, physical and sexual violence, but we have chosen to address each category specifically in our articles. Our hope is that by understanding each category, caring adults might be able to better investigate TDV within their own areas of intervention with teens.
Estimates for the percentage of teens experiencing sexual dating violence varies from almost 11% to 25%. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) for 2015 reports that 10.6% of teens who dated in the past 12 months were forced to do sexual things (counting being kissed, touched, or physically forced to have sexual intercourse).1 The YRBS numbers come from surveys given to high school students every other year across the United States. The 2015 report notes that the prevalence of TDV in general did not change significantly since the 2013 survey and a long-range change cannot be noted, since the questions asked about TDV changed in 2013.
An interesting study on teen dating violence comes from Ohio State University. This was a small study of 297 students that reflects the large student population at Ohio State. The researchers surveyed students about their dating experiences retrospectively in high school. There were two questions on the survey that referred to sexual violence: Has any partner you’ve been involved with between ages 13 and 19 ever… 1) pressured you to participate in sexual activities by begging or arguing with you or by threatening to end your relationship or 2) pressured you to participate in sexual activities by threatening you with physical force (i.e. twisting your arm or holding you down?)2
The results of the Ohio State study showed 25% of the females surveyed experienced sexual pressure due to a partner’s persistent begging or threats, 5% due to actual physical force and 9% due to threats of physical force. For those reporting forced sexual abuse, 42.9% of those reported sexual violence from two or more partners.2
One might guess that the difference between the YRBS and the Ohio State statistics on sexual violence (10.6% vs 25%) has to do with the added aspect of “coercion” in the Ohio State Study. The wording on the YRBS study uses the word “forced” and the Ohio State study uses the term “pressured”. Unlike physical violence in teen relationships, sexual violence does seem to be perpetrated more often by males on females.2
The National Survey of Teen Relationships and Intimate Violence (STRIV) was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2016. This study included about 2,000 more teens than the Ohio State study and concluded that the percentage of teens experiencing sexual dating violence as a victim was about 18%.3 At the time of this printing, our staff has not been able to locate the specific questions asked on the survey, but the report does indicate that there were four items on the survey for the measurement of sexual abuse.
Our staff did not find any articles mentioning pornography as a factor in sexual violence in teen romantic relationships. Yet, research shows that some of the risk factors for perpetrating TDV are definitely linked to pornography use in adolescents. Early sexual debut and multiple sexual partners, using drugs or alcohol while engaging in sexual activities, and believing that dating violence is acceptable are all linked to porn use;4 yet, we do not see stopping pornography viewing listed as a prevention for dating violence or even as a risk factor for perpetrators. This is an area where research is needed.
Most studies lump together the detrimental effects of teen dating violence, regardless of the type (psychological, physical or sexual). Females tend to suffer more severe psychological consequences than their male counterparts. Short-term effects include depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, substance abuse and risky sexual behavior. Long-term effects are reported as decreased self-esteem, eating disorders, addictions, and poor mental health.5 However, from the short-term effects listed, it isn’t difficult to also predict sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies with the resulting long-term effects of those. Perhaps the most troubling result of TDV is that the troubled relationships follow the teens into adulthood as they engage in Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Statistics reveal that 22% of women and 15% of men who are adult victims of rape, physical violence and stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced TDV.6
What can be done about Teen Dating Violence? In public health the first step is always making people aware of the problem. Here at MI, in addition to these articles, we have added more information to our Building Family Connections training on TDV. Parents have an important influence on their children and teens. We live in a culture that is filled with violence and we need to promote counter-culture living to our children. As parents, we are our children’s first and most consistent role model. What relationship patterns are we demonstrating? How do we handle conflict in our own relationships?
In our Clinical Intervention training, we have added more trauma-informed interview information. Many teens are afraid to talk about violence in their romantic relationships. Adding questions about TDV to your routine questionnaire or displaying a poster, might make a difference in a teen’s life.
As for education in our schools, what would make the greatest impact on our teens, information about “consent” or information about healthy and unhealthy relationships? In most States “consent” to sexual acts is not really legal at all, since the participants are not of legal age to consent! Yet, consent is being pushed by the comprehensive sex education promoters. Kids want to know how to say, “no” without hurting the other person’s feelings, and for that they need to understand concepts such as mutual respect and healthy boundaries. Let’s give our teens the help they really need to avoid all types of teen dating violence.
- Centers for Disease Control, “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance-United Sates, 2015,” MMWR Surveillance Summaries/Vol 65/No. 6
- Bonomi AE, Anderson ML, Nemeth J, et al, “Dating violence victimization across the teen years; Abuse frequency, number of abusive partners, and age at first intercourse,” BMC Public Health 2012, 12:637
- Taylor BG, Mumford EA, “A National Descriptive Portrait of Adolescent Relationship Abuse: Results from the National Survey on Teen Relationships and Intimate Violence. Journal of Interpersonal violence. 2016;31(6):963-988.
- Owens EW, Behun RJ, Manning JC and Reid RC, “The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research,” Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 19:99-122, 2012.
- Cutter-Wilson E and Richmond T, “Understanding Teen Dating Violence,” Curr. Opin. Pediatr. 2011 Aug; 23(4):379-383
- Black MC, Basile KC, Breiding MJ, et al, “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011.