Even the most self-proclaimed “progressive” person has some deep-seated biases. For example, when someone says the words “dating violence,” most people automatically assume that a male committed some act of violence on a female. In late July, however, several new studies presented evidence to overthrow these nearly universal assumptions. At the American Psychological Association’s annual convention, researchers presented findings from the Growing Up with Media study, a collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and prevention. The study followed 1,058 young people ages 14-20 over a period of several years with surprising results. One-third reported being victims of dating violence at some point, and girls were more likely to be the perpetrators. Thirty-five percent of girls reported committing dating violence, while 29 percent of boys reported doing so. An almost equal number of males (37 percent) and females (41 percent) reported being victims. It is important to note that researchers drew a distinction between dating violence and sexual violence; girls were far more likely to report being the victims of sexual violence.
The study examined all forms of dating violence. According to Campus Safety Magazine, dating violence can be defined in several ways.
- Verbal Abuse – Threatening to hurt the victim or threatening to kill himself or herself if they break up.
- Physical Abuse – Hitting , slapping, punching
- Controlling Behaviors – Trying to prevent the victim from seeing his or her family and friends, telling the victim where to live or what to wear, preventing the victim from participating in certain groups or activities, threatening to spread rumors or blackmail the victim
- Sexual Abuse – Putting extreme pressure on the victim to engage in sexual behavior, including kissing
- Substance Abuse – Putting extreme pressure on the victim to use drugs or alcohol
- Technological Abuse – Excessively calling or texting to find out where the victim is and what he or she is doing, threatening to blackmail the victim via social media
Dorothy Espelage, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, presented a related study at the convention. For four years, she studied 625 students in the 5th, 6th, and 7th grades. One in three of these students also reported being victims of dating violence. The most common form reported was verbal abuse, with 31 percent of the students reporting purposefully doing something to make the other person angry, and 26 percent using a “hostile tone.” Physical and sexual violence were much less common; 11 percent of respondents said they bit their partner, 10 percent said they’d hit them, and six percent said they had forced someone else to kiss them. Espelage reported that the most significant finding of the study was the link between bullying and dating violence. Kids who were considered “middle school bullies” – both boys and girls – were seven times more likely to commit acts of dating violence in high school. This statistic was true across the board, regardless of social standing or economic background. As Espelage said, “I’m talking about the popular kids, the high social status kids, too. If you’ve got a nasty, bully girl in junior high, she’s going to have a bad outcome.”
As a domestic violence attorney, I find these studies particularly interesting because they highlight the disparity between social perception and fact. Just as middle school bullying can morph into dating violence, dating violence can change to domestic and sexual abuse as the perpetrators and victims grow up. Since girls are more likely to commit dating violence, it would seem that they would be equally as likely to commit sexual violence as the men. Yet the vast majority of reported sex offenders and domestic abusers are men. I look forward to a follow-up study – one that examines the number of unreported domestic and sexual abuse cases in which the abusers are women and society’s quick readiness to assume men accused of domestic violence are automatically guilty.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.
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