2 in 5 teens report cyber dating abuse

"Professionals should take cyber dating abuse seriously and actively ask teens if they are being monitored, threatened, or sexually coerced by their partner using technology-based communication," says Elizabeth Miller. (Credit: Jesse Millan/Flickr)

Two in five teenagers have experienced cyber dating abuse in the last three months, according to a recent survey.

Cyber dating abuse involves the use of technology to control, harass, threaten, or stalk another person in the context of a dating relationship.

The study took place at eight school-based health centers in California where students receive confidential clinical health services, including annual check-ups, sports physicals, and birth control.

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The study, conducted during the 2012-2013 school year, assessed teens ages 14 to 19 for exposure to cyber dating abuse, adolescent relationship abuse, sexual behavior, and care-seeking for sexual and reproductive health.

As reported in Pediatrics, key findings show that 41 percent of teens reported experiencing this form of abuse within the last three months, with more young women than young men reporting this type of victimization.

Most commonly, their partners used technology including mobile apps, social networks, texts, or other digital communication to repeatedly contact them to see where they were and whom they were with.

“These findings underscore that cyber dating abuse is an emerging concern,” says Elizabeth Miller, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“We need to support prevention efforts that increase education about the many different forms of abuse in adolescent relationships, and to encourage parents, teachers, coaches, and others to talk to young people about what healthy relationships look like.”

More violence, less birth control

Like previous research examining this form of abuse, the researchers found that teens exposed to cyber dating abuse were more likely to also experience other forms of physical and sexual dating abuse, such as being slapped, choked, or made to have sex by a dating partner, and also non-partner sexual assault.

Additionally, greater exposure to cyber dating abuse was associated with less contraceptive use among adolescent girls.

“It is concerning to see such a large number of young people reporting these cyber dating abuse experiences, and to learn that experiencing this form of abuse is associated with other unhealthy behaviors such as not using any method of contraception for birth control,” says first author Rebecca Dick, a clinical research coordinator with the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

“Professionals should take cyber dating abuse seriously and actively ask teens if they are being monitored, threatened, or sexually coerced by their partner using technology-based communication,” adds Miller, who is also chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital.

“Given the prevalence of cyber dating abuse in this sample of adolescents, we recommend that relationship abuse prevention education include cyber dating abuse and that such education and counseling be integrated into health assessments in clinical settings.”

Collaborators on the study contributed from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC; University of California Davis School of Medicine; California Adolescent Health Collaborative, Public Health Institute; California School-Based Health Alliance and California State University Sacramento School of Nursing; University of California San Francisco School of Nursing; Futures Without Violence; and University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

The National Institute of Justice of the US Department of Justice funded the work.

Source: University of Pittsburgh