Primary Sources: Homeless Young Women with More Male Friends May Experience More Dating Violence

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A young woman standing in front of a brick building

The Social Networks of Homeless Youth Experiencing Intimate Partner Violence.” Robin Petering, Eric Rice, Harmony Rhoades and Hailey Winetrobe. The Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 29, No. 12 (January 2014).

What it’s about: Researchers from the University of Southern California wanted to find out how homeless youths’ experiences of intimate partner violence (physical, sexual, or psychological harm inflicted by a current or former dating partner) is related to their network of social connections. They wanted to know, for example, if the gender balance among young people's connections or the types of relationships they have influenced their likelihood of experiencing intimate partner violence.

Using an online questionnaire and in-person interviews, the authors surveyed 386 homeless youth ages 13 to 25 about peers they had interacted with over the last 30 days.

Why read it: Authors Petering, Rice, Rhoades and Winetrobe say no previous studies have examined the relationship between intimate partner violence and homeless youths' social networks, even though these networks are often significant indicators of health and mental health among young people experiencing homelessness. Many homeless young people are at high risk for intimate partner violence because of their histories of childhood maltreatment, which is linked to higher risk for violence at the hands of a dating or sexual partner later on.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers:  The authors write that it’s possible that having a male-dominated social network may increase the likelihood that homeless young women will become victims of intimate partner violence. Among the authors' specific findings:

  • Homeless young women who had experienced intimate partner violence in the last year reported being friends with more guys than young women who had not experienced it.
  • Young women who had witnessed family violence during childhood also had more male friends than those who had not. Those who had experienced sexual abuse during childhood had fewer male friends than those who had not.
  • About one quarter of the youth had experienced violence from a boyfriend or girlfriend in the last year.
  • Homeless young women are more likely to be victims of sexual assault than homeless young men even though both groups engage in the same risky behaviors.

Youth workers should be aware of these associations and the fact that females with more male friends may be more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence, the authors write. They say it is important to assess the nature of the violence experienced, including the how severe and how frequent it was.

The authors also suggest that homeless youth function in a different social context than the general population. Youth immersed in street life don't have as many adult role models as other young people do. Because access to supportive resources, like services for victims of sexual and domestic violence, is limited for homeless young people, they are more likely than their housed peers to remain in a violent relationship. And though many street youth receive services at drop-in centers or access caseworkers, their primary source of social connections and influence are their peers on the street. That means that particularly for homeless youth, intimate violence prevention efforts may be the most effective if they are delivered by young people, the authors write. These peer-led interventions should facilitate healthy connections between homeless youth and emphasize building healthy relationship skills and non-violent forms of conflict resolution.

Additional references: Look for more articles on dating violence and domestic violence in NCFY’s research library.

The online questionnaire in this study used questions adopted from the CDC’s Youth Behavioral Risk Study.

We also offer several resources relating to homelessness and dating violence including "Why Are Homeless Youth at High Risk for Dating Violence?", "Addressing the Complexities of Family and Relationship Violence," and "Collaborating to End Teen Dating Violence and Promote Healthy Relationships." In addition, we spoke to author, Eric Rice, about the potential benefits to homeless youth in using technology such as social media to expand their networks and connect with their friends and family in "Q&A: How to Help Youth Make Positive Use of Social Media."

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.

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