Q&A: Collaborating to End Teen Dating Violence and Promote Healthy Relationships

holding hands

It takes a village to prevent teen dating violence. On a federal level, that village comprises the Federal Interagency Workgroup on Teen Dating Violence. Representatives from 18 agencies share information and coordinate teen dating violence program, policy and research activities.

We spoke to Carrie Mulford, social science analyst at the National Institute of Justice and coordinator of the workgroup. She told us about recent research on dating violence being spearheaded by the National Institute on Justice and the workgroup, and the direction dating violence research and programs are headed.

NCFY: Tell me about some recent research spurred by the interagency collaboration.

Carrie Mulford: The National Institute of Justice funded a study on girls’ revictimization which involved 176 girls who were victims of maltreatment in Colorado. They received either a social learning feminist curriculum that addresses power dynamics and social pressures, or a risk detection system designed to improve girls’ ability to recognize danger cues and learn to respond to risky situations. Overall, girls who participated in either of these had fewer instances of sexual or physical revictimization compared to a similar group of girls who did not participate in either, suggesting that both types can be effective.

Another National Institute of Justice-funded study looking at age differences between partners, and the amount of delinquency each partner was engaged in found that, among 223 at-risk teens in Virginia, the older the teens’ partners were the higher the likelihood of violence and risky sexual behavior in the relationship, whether it was a younger girl with an older boy or a younger boy with an older girl. What was surprising was that it was true for boys too.

Another recent study that looked at overlap in cyber abuse and other forms of abuse asked over 3,500 participants about rates of different forms of violence (physical, psychological, sexual, and cyber abuse), finding that 18 percent of youth had experienced cyber dating abuse.

NCFY: What do you most want youth workers to know about what you are finding out?

Mulford: Jealousy often comes up as a major reason for dating violence. Boys might say, “I hit her because I thought she was looking at this other guy.” We talk about dating violence in terms of red flags – and jealousy is just one of several controlling behaviors. Other findings across dating violence in general are that it is preventable: whether in programs for high-risk youth or those that target general populations.

NCFY: What do we need to do more of?

Mulford: We need more interventions focused on the abuser, and that focus on prevention. A lot of existing programs unintentionally end up placing the burden on the victim to prevent their abuse.

NCFY: What do we need to know more about?

Mulford: We need more research on specific interventions with at-risk kids. We’re doing pretty well on the school-based interventions, but we know very little about working with kids involved with juvenile justice and other systems.  And we need more research on interventions focused on engaging boys in dating violence prevention – that target them as a change agent.

NCFY: What are your plans for future study?

Mulford: We’re looking at clinic-based health settings where we know a lot of at-risk youth go, such as an emergency department in Boston. Also, we’re starting to research school-based health clinics [SBHCs] to get more at-risk youth involved. There’s a study underway using a “daily diary” study platform of five [school-based health clinics] in Baltimore that is going to use a mobile device to follow kids day-to-day reporting on their dating abuse, alcohol and substance use, and relationship factors like jealousy and anger to determine what factors come first, or the sequencing of events.

The Federal Interagency Workgroup on Teen Dating Violence welcomes researchers and practitioners who want to speak at Web meetings and share their work. Contact Carrie Mulford if you are interested.

9-5 pm Eastern