Delinquency And Dating Violence Essay

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A history of delinquency, aggression, or conduct problems is linked to dating violence—defined as physical, sexual, or psychological violence within a dating relationship. However, research on family violence and other kinds of violence and antisocial behavior has been generally conducted separately, and examination of links between these phenomena, especially for teenagers, is relatively new.

Initially, focus on violence between intimate partners was placed exclusively on violence between married partners since it was believed that dating violence, particularly among teenagers, was rare or inconsequential. In the last decade it has become clear that it is neither, as national studies have established more accurate estimates of prevalence and correlates. Since violence between married partners has been linked consistently to patterns of antisocial behavior, investigation of overlap between delinquency, aggression, and dating violence is of interest, especially since both partner violence and antisocial behavior are most prevalent during adolescence and early adulthood.

Prevalence Of Dating Violence

Estimates of teen dating violence vary widely. Data gathered in the context of criminal victimization by the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) show low estimates in general, and much higher estimates of victimization reported by teenage females (12.4%) compared to teenage males (1.2%). Other national studies of high school students gathered in the context of a survey of general behaviors, such as the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted in 2003 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have suggested higher and more gender-equivalent estimates, with about 1 in 11 students having reported physical victimization in the past year. Another national estimate of adolescents in high school indicated that almost one third of respondents report experiencing some lifetime dating violence, including psychological and physical violence, again with similar rates for males and females. Other studies of dating violence have reported even higher prevalence rates of some violence in a current dating relationship. Differences in estimates across studies are due to many factors, including different samples, varying confidentiality of responses, time frames, and instrumentation. The most widely used measure to survey partner violence is the Conflict Tactics Scales developed by Murray Straus, which assess the occurrence and frequency of a range of violent behaviors during arguments, ranging from hitting to injuring with a weapon.

Despite earlier focus on male violence perpetration, surveys that include both genders have found that young women and young men indicate similar rates of violence perpetrated and received, and also indicate they are involved in mutual or reciprocal violence. Both men and women display clinically significant levels of relationship violence, that is, at levels that are more typically seen in shelters or court mandated treatment, although much violence does not fall into that category. It appears that young women are more likely than men to suffer serious harm and to experience sexual violence.

Risk Factors

Many studies have indicated that a history of aggression and antisocial behavior during childhood or adolescence is a risk factor for adult male partner violence perpetration. Longitudinal studies conducted in different contexts and countries also have indicated that delinquency and conduct problems in childhood and adolescence prospectively predict young adult partner violence in both genders (i.e., having experienced conduct problems in youth significantly increases individuals’ risk of being in a relationship where dating violence occurs). In general, delinquency and conduct problems are measured by youth or parent report, and not arrest. The much smaller amount of research on teenagers also has suggested that people of both sexes who display violence toward their dating partners are more aggressive than their peers, as well as more likely to display other risk behaviors, including engaging in sex, attempting suicide, and heavy drinking.

Since there is overlap between dating violence and antisocial behavior, it is important to understand the similarities and differences in the risk profiles of adolescents who engage in one or the other or both behaviors. As is the case with adult partner violence, many variables appear to be linked to dating violence, including personal, contextual, and interpersonal variables of those experiencing violence as well as of the perpetrators. Individual risk factors that cross both sets of behaviors include poor parenting; socioeconomic disadvantage; and, importantly, a history of violence in the family of origin, including physical child abuse and witnessing parental violence. Psychological risk factors are less studied, but also include personality characteristics such as reactivity, impulsivity, and negative emotionality, which may have a genetic basis but could also arise from or be exacerbated by lack of warmth and bonding in early family relationships.

Some studies have tried to elucidate developmental pathways that might link risk factors like experiencing family violence to delinquency, violence, and dating violence. A learning theory approach suggests that early coercive, hostile relationship patterns in the family are learned and carry through into individuals’ relationships with their peers and dating partners. Another hypothesis is that exposure to violence in the family leads to failure in adolescents’ ability to regulate emotions, especially anger and anxiety, and also difficulties in forming rewarding relationships with others. In addition, adolescents who have been exposed to violence are hypothesized to gravitate toward an aggressive deviant peer group, including opposite sex peers who share similar characteristics and are also ill equipped to negotiate developmentally appropriate intimate relationships.

In the few longitudinal studies that have been conducted, early family risk such as ineffective parenting or exposure to family violence predicted early adolescent antisocial behavior, which then predicted dating violence. Other studies have found that experiences of family violence predict later dating violence, without an intervening history of conduct problems or aggression outside the family. Thus, these behaviors do not completely share an underlying propensity. It appears that dating violence and aggressive behavior are partly overlapping phenomena but are also distinct, and that a history of conduct problems is not a necessary prelude to being in violent dating relationships. Some studies have indicated that having both problems is linked with higher levels of cumulative risk. Both females and males seem to display continuity in aggressive and antisocial behavior at young ages. There is also some evidence of pathways that may differ by gender: Males engaging in partner violence may have more under controlled personality histories, whereas females engaging in partner violence may experience more depressive symptoms, and may age out of dating violence at higher rates. Inconsistent and incomplete findings result from the few tests of these hypotheses.

Prevention And Intervention

The continued investigation of theoretically and clinically informed risk factors for dating violence in teenagers should inform prevention and intervention programs. Some researchers feel intervention is premature in view of the still emerging state of research on at-risk teenagers. However, dating violence interventions for high-risk teens, including those who have been victims of child maltreatment or who have witnessed domestic violence between parents, show promising results in modifying teens’ cognitions and norms about the acceptability of violence. There is no strong justification for focusing on males exclusively since patterns for males and females are more similar than different. Given the links between delinquency and dating violence, successful delinquency interventions could also modify trajectories toward dating violence, particularly if the target was broader antisocial, aggressive behaviors that included violence to dating partners. It is of special concern that antisocial teens and teens in violent dating relationships also frequently become young parents, thus perpetuating intergenerational transmission of antisocial behavior and relationship conflict.


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