Dating violence starts early, UGA researchers say
By Lee Shearer
January 19, 2013
Nearly one in three middle and high school students who date say their relationships include violence, according to University of Georgia researchers.
Girls were more likely to perpetrate violence than boys, but girls were more likely to be the victims of sexual violence or incur injuries, said UGA professor Pamela Orpinas, who led the study.
“That’s surprising to most people, but to anyone who works in this field, it’s not really surprising,” she said. “What happens frequently is that it’s not as serious when a girls hits a guy. The consequences are not as serious, and people don’t take it as seriously.”
Other researchers also have noticed the same gender difference, but Orpinas and her colleagues found out violent behavior patterns persist over time.
The researchers tracked a group of northeast Georgia adolescents for their study, interviewing them annually for seven years from sixth grade through 12th grade.
Orpinas is a professor and head of UGA’s department of health promotion and behavior, part of UGA’s College of Public Health.
About nine in 10 youths in violent relationships are both victim and perpetrator, the researchers found.
Two in three adolescents do not experience dating violence. But for those who do, the pattern remains stable over time, Orpinas said.
About 14 percent of sixth-grade boys and 24 percent of girls said they had committed an act of violence during the previous three months; 38 percent of sixth-grade boys and 22 percent of the girls said they had been victims of violence such as slapping or hitting during that same time frame.
In 12th grade, 14 percent of boys and 32 percent of girls said they had been violent during the previous three months, while 32 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls said they had been victims.
Dating violence in general is associated with alcohol and drug use, lower educational achievement and other negative experiences, Orpinas said.
“(The study) tells us we need to start talking early about violence, and talk to both boys and girls,” she said. “And it tells us it’s mutual. The ones that are reporting perpetrating violence are also reporting victimization.”
“And we need to be good role models for kids and talk about what is acceptable,” the researcher said. “Violence is a learned behavior. If we see it at home, in your neighborhood or in your friends, you’re more likely to think that behavior is OK.”