VANCOUVER — Who is more likely to be victimized by teen dating violence? If you’re quick to think it’s girls, new data shows you’re wrong. In a surprising twist, recently published research indicates boys are more likely to report being victims of dating violence committed by partners who hit, slap or push them.
Researchers with the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Simon Fraser University (SFU) conducted a longitudinal study of dating violence. While reports of physical abuse went down over time, they say there is a troubling gender-related trend.
Five percent of teens reported physical abuse from their dating partners in 2013, down from 6 percent in 2003. But in the last year, 5.8 percent of boys reported dating violence compared to 4.2 percent of girls.
“It could be that it’s still socially acceptable for girls to hit or slap boys in dating relationships,” says lead author Catherine Shaffer, a PhD student with SFU, in a release. “This has been found in studies of adolescents in other countries as well.”
Researchers looked at data collected from three British Columbia Adolescent Health Surveys conducted over a 10-year timespan. Participants were 35,900 students in grades 7 through 12 who were in dating relationships. This is the first North American study to compare statistics for boys and girls and the first Canadian study to consider teen dating violence over the course of a decade.
Shaffer believes the overall decline in dating violence is positive. “Young people who experience dating violence are more likely to act out and take unnecessary risks, and they’re also more likely to experience depression or think about or attempt suicide,” she says. “That’s why it’s good to see that decline in dating violence over a 10-year span. It suggests that healthy relationship programs are making an impact among youth.”
Elizabeth Saewyc, senior study author and a UBC nursing professor, thinks the results tell us that teens in dating relationships need more support programs.
“A lot of our interventions assume that the girl is always the victim, but these findings tell us that it isn’t always so,” notes Saewyc. “And relationship violence, be it physical, sexual or other forms, and regardless who the perpetrator is, is never OK. Health-care providers, parents and caregivers, schools and others can protect teens from dating violence by helping them define what healthy relationships look like, even before their first date.”
Researchers say a study is needed to find out why boys are experiencing an increase in dating violence.
The study results were published on July 18, 2018 in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.