Primary Sources: Considering Cyber Dating Abuse in Programs to Prevent Teen Dating Violence

Photograph of a young woman looking at her smart phone.

The Rate of Cyber Dating Abuse Among Teens and How It Relates to Other Forms of Teen Dating Violence” (abstract). Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 42 (February 2013).

What it’s about: Researchers at the Urban Institute wanted to explore how many teens had experienced or perpetrated so-called “cyber dating abuse” inflicted online (social media, video sites or instant messaging) or via cell phone (calls, voicemails and text messages). The researchers also wanted to know how cyber abuse might relate to other abusive behaviors in teen dating relationships. They surveyed 5,647 middle and high school students in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey about their experiences with four types of dating violence: cyber abuse, physical violence, psychological abuse and sexual coercion.

Why read it: Past studies have shown that dating violence is all too common among American adolescents. But researchers are only beginning to explore how young people might use technology or new media, like social networking sites and online videos, to harass, control or abuse their partners. Learning more about cyber dating abuse—and whether it typically occurs alongside other abusive behaviors—can help family and youth workers better talk to young people about preventing and recognizing unhealthy relationship patterns.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: More than one-quarter of the 3,745 youth who said they were currently or recently in a relationship reported experiencing cyber dating abuse in the prior year. Most teens said the digital abuse was non-sexual, like posting mean comments on a young person’s profile page or stealing their password. About 10 percent of respondents reported cyber abuse that was sexual in nature, like being pressured to send or receive naked photos. Girls were more likely to experience cyber dating abuse than were boys. Teens were less likely to reciprocate digital abuse than they were to respond in-kind to physical or psychological violence.

The researchers found that cyber dating abuse often occurs with other forms of dating violence--particularly acts of sexual violence, like being pressured or forced to have intercourse. Students who reported sexual cyber dating abuse, for example, also reported seven times higher rates of sexual coercion than those who didn’t.

While this study focuses on the risks involved in teens’ connection to each other via technology, the authors also note that social networking sites, mobile apps and other media may help spread awareness about teen dating violence.

Additional references: The Urban Institute released a two-page fact sheet (PDF, 180KB) that includes some of the key statistics from the report, as well as what they mean for dating violence prevention and intervention. also has a Web page that educates young people about common signs of digital abuse. The website answers youth concerns about situations like being barraged with text messages and being pressured to send naked photos digitally.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB, or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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