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Mixed-gender friendships, romantic relationships, and sexual behaviors increase during adolescence as a normal part of development. However, some studies have revealed potential risks to these types of social relationships. Different authors have indicated that dating violence among adolescents is an issue for concern. To date, there has been little research on this topic cross-nationally. This study examined and compared the prevalence and characteristics of physical dating violence among young people aged between 15 and 18 years in England and Spain (N = 200 in Spain, N = 199 in England), and how being involved (or not) in this violence relates to romantic relationship quality. Results indicated that approximately 23% of young people reported victimization and 30% reported perpetrating physical dating violence. In both countries, most of those involved in physical dating violence reported involvement in reciprocal violence (displaying both aggression and victimization). Those young people involved in dating violence reported higher levels on scales assessing negative aspects of relationship quality compared with those not involved, but there were no significant differences in positive aspects of relationship quality. Furthermore, different patterns appeared relating to the severity of violence and country. The findings are discussed in terms of their implications for theory and practice. © The Author(s) 2015.
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Journal of Interpersonal Violence
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DOI: 10.1177/0886260514567963
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Article
Physical Dating
Violence in Spain and
the United Kingdom
and the Importance of
Relationship Quality
C. Viejo,1 C. P. Monks,2 V. Sánchez,3
and R. Ortega-Ruiz1,2
Abstract
Mixed-gender friendships, romantic relationships, and sexual behaviors
increase during adolescence as a normal part of development. However,
some studies have revealed potential risks to these types of social
relationships. Different authors have indicated that dating violence among
adolescents is an issue for concern. To date, there has been little research
on this topic cross-nationally. This study examined and compared the
prevalence and characteristics of physical dating violence among young
people aged between 15 and 18 years in England and Spain (N = 200 in
Spain, N = 199 in England), and how being involved (or not) in this violence
relates to romantic relationship quality. Results indicated that approximately
23% of young people reported victimization and 30% reported perpetrating
physical dating violence. In both countries, most of those involved in physical
dating violence reported involvement in reciprocal violence (displaying both
aggression and victimization). Those young people involved in dating violence
reported higher levels on scales assessing negative aspects of relationship
quality compared with those not involved, but there were no significant
1University of Cordoba, Spain
2University of Greenwich, London, UK
3University of Seville, Spain
Corresponding Author:
Carmen Viejo, University of Cordoba, Avda. San Alberto Magno s/n, 14004 Cordoba, Spain.
Email: cviejo@uco.es
567963JIVXXX10.1177/0886260514567963Journal of Interpersonal ViolenceViejo et al.
research-article2015
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2 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
differences in positive aspects of relationship quality. Furthermore, different
patterns appeared relating to the severity of violence and country. The
findings are discussed in terms of their implications for theory and practice.
Keywords
dating violence, physical violence, and cultural contexts
Background
Throughout the last decade, there has been increasing interest in the study of
dating behavior. International developmental studies have shown that mixed-
gender friendships, romantic relationships, and sexual behaviors increase
during adolescence (e.g., Carver, Joyner, & Udry, 2003). This is underlined
by the fact that three out of every four boys and girls have had at least one
dating partner by the time they reach late adolescence (Connolly, Furman, &
Konarski, 2000; Menesini & Nocentini, 2008; Sánchez, Ortega-Rivera,
Ortega, & Viejo, 2008; Viejo, Sánchez, & Ortega, 2013). These relationships
can provide personal and social benefits for those involved. Adolescent dat-
ing experiences are associated with higher indices of social acceptance, peer
competence among friends and classmates, affirmation of social status, the
development of intimacy (Furman, Low, & Ho, 2009) and sexual identity,
and first sexual encounters (Ortega-Rivera, Sánchez, & Ortega, 2010). They
also contribute to the enhancement of personal variables linked to well-being,
such as identity achievement and psychological adjustment (Bouchey, 2007;
Braithwaite, Delevi, & Fincham, 2010; Shaffer & Furman, 2009, among oth-
ers). On the contrary, other studies have revealed potentially negative aspects
to this type of social relationship, noting that romantic relationships are
sometimes related to limited autonomy, aggressive and/or delinquent behav-
iors, and so on (Joyner & Udry, 2000; Shaffer & Furman, 2009).
There has been a considerable amount of social and scientific attention
focused on the negative aspects of dating relationships, due in part to their
potentially adverse outcomes, as well as some studies that have viewed this
form of violence as a precursor for subsequent gender violence among adult
couples (Cáceres & Cáceres, 2006; O’Leary & Smith-Slep, 2003). Since
1957, when Kanin published the first article on this topic, a growing number
of studies on dating violence have been carried out, first in the United States
and Canada and later in Europe.
Even though most of the earlier studies on adolescent dating violence came
out of the tradition of research into domestic violence and gender violence, it
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Viejo et al. 3
has been found that adolescent dating violence has its own characteristics that
differ from those identified among adult couples. Dating violence within
young couples is not an isolated behavior, but a common one, showing preva-
lence rates that range from 9% to 65% (e.g., Lewis & Fremouw, 2001;
Menesini & Nocentini, 2008; Muñoz-Rivas, Graña, O’Leary, & González,
2007; Sánchez et al., 2008) depending on the behaviors measured, the instru-
ments used, and the terminology used (Archer, 2006; Cáceres & Cáceres,
2006). An international study conducted with university students from 16 dif-
ferent countries reported that there was a high level of involvement in each
country studied but that there were differences between the countries in the
patterns of aggressive behavior reported (Straus, 2004). A more recent interna-
tional review (Leen et al., 2013) underlined that adolescent dating violence is
a pressing international issue; even when individual studies report different
specific results, the overall findings indicate that this is reported by young
people in various countries and, at least for victimization, rates are comparable
across Europe and North America.
Research has considered a variety of behaviors under the Dating Violence
label: physical, verbal, relational, and sexual (Saltzman, Fanslow, McMahon,
& Shelley, 2002). Nonetheless, most studies have focused on physical dating
violence (Capaldi & Owen, 2001; Nocentini, Menesini, & Pastorelli, 2010;
Nocentini et al., 2011; Viejo, 2014), presumably because it is an easily
defined type of violence, can be measured by different questionnaires with
empirical validity, and has clearly demonstrable negative consequences for
emotional and physical health (Banyard & Cross, 2008; Fernández-Fuertes &
Fuertes, 2010; Orpinas, Hsieh, Song, Holland, & Nahapetyan, 2013).
Recent studies have indicated higher rates of involvement among those
who are “occasionally” involved in “moderate” violence: Victimization is
reported by about 23% of participants and aggression by about 30% (Katz,
Washington-Kuffel, & Coblentz, 2002; Menesini & Nocentini, 2008; Viejo,
2014). Archer (2006) noted that it may be misleading to talk about high levels
of violence when the instruments used in the research refer to behaviors that
are lower in intensity, such as slaps around the face. Some aggressive behav-
iors have been related to the developmental process of courtship or dating
and the social skills involved in that process. Ortega and Sánchez (2011) have
proposed that involvement in aggression could be a normal pattern of behav-
ior during the initial stages of the romantic relationship, a kind of dirty dating
as these authors have named it. This is supported by Pellegrini (2001) who
found that boys and girls in early adolescence use different behaviors (which
may be aggressive) toward the opposite sex. Boys tend to use more physical
forms of aggression than girls, whereas girls are more likely to use verbal
forms, such as insults or ironic jokes. Ortega and Sánchez noted that these
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4 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
aggressive behaviors may form part of the relational dynamic, which is being
established in these nascent couples. In this way, these aggressive behaviors
may be well-received by the opposite sex as an indication of interest on the
part of the perpetrator.
This idea is consistent with several studies that have underlined one of the
most common characteristics of dating violence: a reciprocal aggressive
dynamic established between partners in a relationship in which mutual vio-
lence, which may not be very severe and is relatively infrequent, occurs
(Capaldi, Shortt, & Kim, 2005; Echeburúa, Fernández-Montalvo, Corral, &
López-Goñi, 2009; Menesini & Nocentini, 2008; Menesini, Nocentini,
Ortega-Rivera, Sanchez, & Ortega, 2011; Swahn, Alemdar, & Whitaker,
2010; Viejo, 2014). Even when different patterns of aggression are reported
within the couple, the main consistent feature is the reciprocity of the acts and
lack of an imbalance in power (Menesini et al., 2011; Olson, 2002). However,
Archer (2000) noted that when we refer to more severe aggressive behaviors,
such as those that can result in injury, boys are generally more likely to be
aggressors, and girls are more likely to be victims.
Archer (2006) reported that the level of dating aggression and the direc-
tion of the aggression are related to various cultural factors including the
role of women in that society, the prominence of patriarchal ideas, and level
of female empowerment, among others. Archer suggested that among devel-
oped Western countries, cultural elements would affect not only the estab-
lished relational dynamics within the family but also the development of
violent patterns of behavior. Goodwin (2013) also noted the importance of
considering differences between “contact” cultures and “non-contact” cul-
tures proposed by Hall (1976). For example, Southern European students
were found to touch more, stand closer, face one another directly, or keep
eye contact longer than students from “non-contact” cultures such as
Northern Europe. These social relational patterns may also influence the
standardized contact pattern that is accepted within the relationship.
However, there are very few studies that have compared the experiences of
dating violence among young people in different countries, even when the
previous literature indicates that there are cultural differences not only when
defining dating relationships but also in interpreting behaviors within these
relationships (Leen et al., 2013; Nocentini et al., 2011; Straus, 2004). In this
regard, variables related to the couple context (in terms of its relational
dynamic and perceived quality) have been identified as being important due
to their influence on dirty dating dynamics (Ortega & Sánchez, 2011).
Capaldi et al. (2003, 2005) noted that the characteristics of the couple and
the dynamics of their relationship were determining factors in dating vio-
lence. Conflicts may contribute to the establishment of a negative
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Viejo et al. 5
relationship dynamic, which some authors have identified as a dynamic of
the escalation of conflict (Straus & Gelles, 1987). However, the findings in
this area are not conclusive. On one hand, some studies have found a strong
relationship between the negative quality of the relationship (such as high
rates of conflict, jealousy, or an imbalance of power) and an increased risk
of involvement in mild physical dating violence (Fernández-Fuertes &
Fuertes, 2010; Giordano, Soto, Manning, & Longmore, 2010; O’Leary &
Smith-Slep, 2003; Vezina & Hebert, 2007). On the other hand, other authors
such as Giordano et al. (2010) and Ortega, Sánchez, and Ortega-Rivera
(2008) reported that some positive aspects of the relationship, such as love
or feeling cared for by their partner, are also reported by young people who
have experienced violence within their relationships. Thus, if people
involved in dating violence interpret these aggressive behaviors in terms of
demonstrating attention directed toward them and as possible signals of
someone’s interest in them, then it is less likely that this aggression will have
a negative influence on their perception of the quality of their relationship
(Giordano et al., 2010), being an expression of dirty dating (Ortega, Sánchez,
& Ortega-Rivera, 2008).
The current study aimed to advance this line of research by analyzing dat-
ing violence in two developed European countries: Spain and the United
Kingdom. Previous studies have examined different forms of violence in both
countries (Genta et al., 2011; Lehdonvirta & Räsänen, 2011; Monks, Palermiti,
Ortega, & Costabile, 2011). These studies have indicated that there are cul-
tural differences which may affect aggressive behaviors. The predominant
culture within the United Kingdom is identified as relatively liberal, with a
commitment to full employment and the equal inclusion of men and women.
Furthermore, since the 1990s, the prevention of teen violence has been on the
political agenda in the United Kingdom. Spain, however, while sharing some
basic features with British culture, is identified as a Latin country, where the
interpersonal contact network, that is, who you know, is important. Within
Spain, a male “breadwinner” culture persists and policies for the prevention
and intervention in youth violence were only implemented a few years ago
when, for various social reasons, the problem increased exponentially
(Goodwin, 2013; Junger et al., 2007; Lehdonvirta & Räsänen, 2011). The
International Human Development Indicators (United Nations Development
Programme, 2014) identified the United Kingdom and Spain as being coun-
tries with very high human development, ranked 14 and 27 (out of 187),
respectively. However, focusing on the role of males and females in the two
societies (Gender Inequality Index), Spain was found to have a lower level of
gender inequality than the United Kingdom (ranked 16 and 35 out of 187,
respectively). Although both countries are among those that are higher in
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6 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
terms of equality, it is possible that differences in gender equality may relate
to differences between the two countries in dating violence.
Dating violence is still a developing line of research in Spain (Medina-
Ariza & Barberet, 2003; Muñoz-Rivas et al., 2007; Ortega, Ortega-Rivera, &
Sánchez, 2008; Sanchez et al., 2008) and the United Kingdom (Archer &
Ray, 1989; Barter, McCarry, Berridge, & Evans, 2009; Burman & Cartmel,
2005; Hird, 2000; Schütt, 2006). Spanish data have shown very similar
results to international data: Around 30% of adolescents, both boys and girls,
are involved or have been involved in this type of violence, although moder-
ate forms of violence are more frequent than severe forms (Echeburúa et al.,
2009; Muñoz-Rivas et al., 2007, among others). None of these studies have
shown significant sex differences in involvement. Research has also indi-
cated that adolescents are also more likely to be involved in reciprocal rather
than unidirectional violence within their relationship (Menesini et al., 2011),
meaning that both partners behave aggressively toward each other. This
reciprocal dynamic is the main dynamic for moderate violence, whereas uni-
directional violence is more common for severe violence (Viejo, 2014).
Regarding the quality of these relationships, Sánchez et al. (2008) found that
adolescent Spanish couples reported medium to high levels of quality within
their relationships, with females being more satisfied than males.
Research in the United Kingdom has been scarce, leading some recent
studies to extrapolate U.S. data to the United Kingdom due to the dearth of
literature directly related to U.K. samples (Barter et al., 2009; Layard &
Dunn, 2011). Even when European studies on dating violence have been con-
sidered together, the U.K. data have been treated separately (Leen et al.,
2013). Focused on a U.K. sample, a preliminary study by Archer and Ray
(1989) reported a high incidence of some forms of violence within adolescent
couples (college students), with girls being more aggressive than boys. Since
then, only a few studies have focused on dating violence in the United
Kingdom. A study carried out by Hird (2000) indicated that similar levels of
males and females were involved in physical violence (about 15% of males
and 14% of females had experienced physical violence during the previous
year), which is accordance with Barter et al.’s (2009) results but higher than
those reported by Burman and Cartmel (2005). However, none of these stud-
ies provides information relating to the roles of involvement in the aggression
(aggressor, victim, or both). Furthermore, none of them have examined any
variables related to the couple or quality of their relationship. Although not
specifically focused on dating relationships, a UNICEF (2006) report found
that there were differences between young people in different countries in
their perceptions of peer relationships; in particular, young people in the
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Viejo et al. 7
United Kingdom had more negative peer perceptions than young people in
some other countries, including Spain.
Thus, the current literature on dating violence indicates that it is an impor-
tant field for further studies that can focus on providing more details on its
forms and the similarities or differences among countries and different cul-
tures. The present study represents a cross-national study of Spain and the
United Kingdom, aimed on: (1) measuring the prevalence and forms (magni-
tude and direction of aggression) of physical dating violence in both coun-
tries; and (2) performing an exploratory analysis of the characteristics of the
couple (in terms of relationship quality) in relation to involvement in dating
violence and taking into consideration the severity and direction of the
aggressive behavior.
Method
Participants
This study was developed within a larger project on dating and dating vio-
lence. In all, 399 adolescents from Spain (N = 200) and England (N = 199)
participated in the current study. They were aged between 15 and 18 years
(M = 16.77; SD = 1.15). The English sample was from two urban secondary
schools in South East England serving lower- to middle-class catchment
areas. One was mixed sex and the other was a boys’ school; the English sam-
ple contained a predominance of male adolescents (71.1% males vs. 28.9%
female). Both were state schools. The Spanish sample was representative of
schools in South Spain, from the eight cities within the Andalusian region, so
state and fee-paying schools were included, serving very different class
catchment areas. All selected schools in Spain were mixed and the sample
included equal numbers of boys and girls.
Table 1 shows the general sample characteristics as well as the character-
istics for each country.
We used a key question about their present or previous romantic experi-
ences to identify the dating status of adolescents: 19% of adolescents had not
had any romantic experience (15.9% of the Spanish sample and 22.4% of the
English sample), 50.3% had had a past romantic relationship in the last 6
months (Spanish: 48.7%; English: 51.9%), and 30.7% had a current romantic
relationship (Spanish: 35.4%; English: 25.7%).
Analyses were focused on those who had had any romantic experience
(past or present), leaving a final sample of 306 adolescents (164 Spanish and
142 English).
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8 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
Measures
The present and past romantic status of the participants was assessed using a
question taken from the Dating Questionnaire (Connolly et al., 2000).
Participants were asked to select the sentence that best described their current
dating status from four options: I have never had boy/girlfriend; I have a boy/
girlfriend right now; I have more than one boy/girlfriend right now; and I do
not have a boy/girlfriend right now, but have had one within the last 6 months.
The couple context variables were assessed by the Network Relationships
Inventory (Furman & Buhrmester, 1985) and an adaptation of Peer
Orientation–Couple Questionnaire (Fuligni & Eccles, 1993). The Network
Relationships Inventory measured four scales, three related to positive qual-
ity (communication: three items, α = .87, for example, I tell my boyfriend/
girlfriend everything; commitment: three items, α = .76, for example, I spend
my free time with my boyfriend/girlfriend; and expectations for the future:
three items, α = .88, for example, Even when we disagree I’m sure this rela-
tionship will last) and one scale related to negative quality (conflicts: six
items, α = .91, for example, My boyfriend/girlfriend and I get annoyed with
each other’s behavior). The Peer Orientation–Couple Questionnaire assessed
transgressive behavior (four items, α = .69, for example, How much does the
amount of time you spend with your boyfriend/girlfriend keep you from doing
the things you should do, like homework or chores?). Two more items were
included in the Peer Orientation Scale to assess an imbalance of power: When
you are with your boyfriend/girlfriend, how often does someone tend to be the
boss in this relationship? When you are with your boyfriend/girlfriend, how
often does he or she try to control the clothes you wear or the friends you
have? (α = .82; r = .70).
To measure physical dating violence, an adaptation of the Conflict Tactics
Scale (CTS; Straus, 1979, Straus et al., 1996) was used. The original scale
was adapted to an adolescent population (Menesini & Nocentini, 2008; Viejo,
Sánchez, & Ortega-Ruiz, 2014): Nine items assessed mild (α = .67, for
Table 1. Sample Characteristics.
Spain UK Total
N200 199 399
Sex
Girls (%) 46.0 28.9 38.1
Boys (%) 54.0 71.1 61.9
M age 16.72 (SD = 1.31) 16.80 (SD = 0.95) 16.77 (SD = 1.15)
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Viejo et al. 9
example, pushing, grabbing, or shoving) and severe aggression (α = .82, for
example, choked partner), and nine items assessed mild (α = .70, for exam-
ple, slapped by the partner) and severe victimization (α = .79, for example,
slammed by the partner against a wall).
All the questionnaires were translated into Spanish and back-translated to
English by a native speaker. All measures were used previously in Spanish
studies and were validated with confirmatory factor analysis on Spanish ado-
lescents (Viejo, 2012).
Procedure
Questionnaires were completed during school time. Consent for participation
in the study was obtained from the head-teacher and the parents/guardians of
the adolescents. Participation was completely voluntary: The participants
were told that they did not have to take part in the study if they did not wish
to and that confidentiality and anonymity would be assured. The research was
approved by the research ethics committees of the co-authors’ universities.
Participants took around 40 min to complete the questionnaire for the
whole larger project.
Results
The results obtained in this study are presented in this section. In relation to
the aims of this study, initial analyses were performed to examine the preva-
lence and forms of physical dating violence (severity and direction of aggres-
sion) in both countries. Gender differences were also considered. Second,
variables relating to the context of the couple, in terms of the quality of the
romantic relationship, were analyzed in relation to involvement, or not, in
physical dating violence.
Physical Dating Violence in Spain and the United Kingdom
In keeping with previous studies (Menesini & Nocentini, 2008; Viejo, 2014),
the original Likert-type scale was recoded into a 3-point scale: not involved
in violence (0 = never in the original scale), occasional involvement (1 =
rarely), and frequent involvement (2 = sometimes, 3 = lots of times, and 4 =
always). Table 2 shows the results obtained for adolescent involvement in
moderate and severe physical dating violence, by country, sex, and frequency
of behavior.
For the Spanish sample (N = 164), the results indicated that involvement
in physical violence in Spain ranged from 12.2% for mild aggression, to
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10 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
24.5% for severe aggression. Most involvement was occasional, and frequent
involvement was not higher than 2.5%, which was obtained for the most
severe forms of aggression and victimization. The only significant sex differ-
ence was for mild victimization, although the effect size was low, t(146.310) =
2.049, p = .042, r = .17, with boys reporting higher levels than girls (.313 vs.
.165).
For the United Kingdom (N = 142), the results indicated that involvement
in physical violence ranged from 21% for serious victimization to 30.1% for
mild aggression. It was also the case that most were involved “occasionally,”
with the highest level of frequent involvement being for severe victimization
(9.7%). There were no significant sex differences.
Despite the finding that the results were slightly higher in the United
Kingdom than in Spain, t tests indicated that the only significant difference
between countries was for mild aggression, t(218) = −2.475, p = .014, r = .16,
with more adolescents from the U.K. sample being involved than those in the
Spanish sample.
Table 2. Physical Dating Violence Involvement.
Spain UK
Not
Involved
(%)
Occasionally
Involved
(%)
Frequently
Involved
(%)
Not
Involved
(%)
Occasionally
Involved
(%)
Frequently
Involved
(%)
Mild aggression
Total 81.8 17.6 0.6 68.9 26.2 4.9
Boys 81.7 18.3 0 68.4 23.7 7.9
Girls 81.8 16.9 1.3 68.8 31.3 0
Mild victimization
Total 77.8 20.4 1.9 71 22.6 6.5
Boys 72.3 24.1 3.6 71.8 20.5 7.7
Girls 83.5 16.5 0 75 25 0
Severe aggression
Total 75.5 22 2.5 72.1 23 4.9
Boys 69.5 28 2.4 68.4 23.7 7.9
Girls 81.8 15.6 2.6 75 25 0
Severe victimization
Total 79 18.5 2.5 79 11.3 9.7
Boys 83.1 13.3 3.6 82.1 5.1 12.8
Girls 74.7 24.1 1.3 75 25 0
Note. Spain: N = 164 (boys, n = 85; girls, n = 79); United Kingdom: N = 142 (boys, n = 86;
girls, n = 38; missing, n = 18).
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Viejo et al. 11
Finally, the form of involvement of adolescents in both countries was
examined. In accordance with previous studies (Moffitt & Caspi, 1998), we
considered aggression, victimization, and reciprocal violence separately.
Figure 1 shows the percentage of adolescents in each role for each country.
Exclusive aggression or victimization involvement was less frequent than
reciprocal involvement, and there were no significant sex differences by role.
Chi-square tests were used to examine the role of involvement (not
involved, aggression only, victimization only, and reciprocally involved) for
moderate and severe violence across the two countries. There were no signifi-
cant differences between the Spanish and U.K. samples for involvement in
moderate violence, χ2(3, N = 219) = 3.789, p = .285, Cramer’s V = .132, or
severe violence, χ2(3, N = 219) = 2.063, p = .559, Cramer’s V = .097.
Couple Context Variables: Quality of the Romantic Relationship
and Physical Dating Violence in Spain and the United Kingdom
The second aim of this study examined the couple context variables in terms
of the quality of the romantic relationships in relation to involvement in phys-
ical dating violence. According to previous results, we considered indepen-
dently those reciprocally involved in violence and those involved in only
aggression or victimization (but not both). The results were assessed sepa-
rately for the Spanish (N = 164) and U.K. (N = 142) samples (Tables 3 and 4).
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
80%
Moderate PVDSevere PDVModerate PVDSevere PDV
SpainU.K.
74.20%
67.90%
63.30%
70%
15.10% 13.80%
23.30%
18.30%
7.50%
10.70%
6.70% 8.30%
3.10%
7.50% 6.70% 3.30%
Not involved
Reciprocal involvement
Aggressors
Vicms
Figure 1. Roles for PDV involvement.
Note. PDV = physical dating violence.
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12
Table 3. Spain: PDV Involvement and Quality (N = 164).
Mild PDV Severe PDV
Total
M (SD)
Not
Involved
M (SD)
Exclusive
Involvement
M (SD)
Reciprocal
Involvement
M (SD)
Not
Involved
M (SD)
Exclusive
Involvement
M (SD)
Reciprocal
Involvement
M (SD)
Transgressive behavior 1.49 (0.66) 1.96 (0.54) 1.53 (0.43) 1.48 (0.65) 1.68 (0.64) 1.68 (0.46) 1.54 (0.62)
Imbalance of power 1.47 (0.60) 2.07 (0.78) 1.98 (0.96) 1.49 (0.64) 1.77 (0.79) 1.95 (0.88) 1.59 (0.72)
Conflicts 2.12 (0.81) 2.73 (0.88) 2.63 (0.99) 2.06 (0.83) 2.57 (0.87) 2.94 (0.74) 2.25 (0.89)
Communication 3.73 (1.12) 3.34 (1.14) 3.55 (1.11) 3.60 (1.16) 3.93 (0.95) 3.48 (1.15) 3.63 (1.16)
Closeness 3.93 (0.96) 3.88 (0.80) 3.94 (0.94) 3.89 (0.97) 4.15 (0.74) 3.82 (1.01) 3.89 (0.99)
Expectation for the future 3.37 (1.32) 2.93 (1.12) 3.08 (1.16) 3.21 (1.30) 3.51 (1.27) 3.19 (1.10) 3.22 (1.30)
Note. Considering mild violence and severe violence separately, those groups showing significant differences have been shaded in the table. PDV =
physical dating violence.
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13
Table 4. The United Kingdom: PDV Involvement and Quality (N = 142).
Mild PDV Severe PDV
Total
M (SD)
Not
Involved
M (SD)
Exclusive
Involvement
M (SD)
Reciprocal
Involvement
M (SD)
Not
Involved
M (SD)
Exclusive
Involvement
M (SD)
Reciprocal
Involvement
M (SD)
Transgressive behavior 1.84 (0.64) 1.91 (0.93) 2.35 (0.99) 1.85 (0.75) 2.07 (0.64) 2.35 (0.92) 2.01 (0.85)
Imbalance of power 2.04 (1.07) 2.13 (1.03) 2.96 (1.14) 2.00 (0.99) 2.71 (1.62) 3.00 (0.97) 2.30 (1.15)
Conflicts 2.39 (0.82) 2.63 (1.12) 3.23 (0.57) 2.37 (0.78) 3.02 (1.14) 3.22 (0.69) 2.61 (0.89)
Communication 3.67 (0.95) 3.50 (1.27) 3.58 (0.82) 3.68 (0.90) 3.57 (1.44) 3.47 (0.85) 3.40 (1.08)
Closeness 4.07 (0.88) 4.00 (0.96) 3.63 (0.83) 4.08 (0.81) 3.90 (1.15) 3.59 (0.92) 3.75 (0.90)
Expectation for the future 3.41 (1.13) 3.29 (0.82) 2.60 (1.18) 3.35 (1.06) 3.14 (1.29) 2.77 (1.30) 2.79 (1.13)
Note. Considering mild violence and severe violence separately, it has been colored those groups showing significant differences. PDV = physical
dating violence.
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14 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
An overall comparison of the two countries showed that the participants in
the U.K. sample reported having poorer quality dating relationships than the
Spanish participants, shown by higher scores on the negative scales and
lower scores on the positive scales. Unrelated samples t tests indicated that
significant differences were mainly on the negative scales: with medium–
high effect size on transgressive behaviors: t(155.754) = −4.577, p = .000,
r = .35; imbalance of power: t(135.285) = −5.222, p = .000, r = .41; and lower
effect size on conflict: t(248) = −3.136, p = .002, r = .20; accompanied by
statistically lower scores in expectations for the future, t(244.546) = 2.823,
p = .005, r = .18.
To examine this further, the results obtained in each country for couple
quality were analyzed in relation to involvement in violence. According to
previous studies, no involvement, unilateral involvement, and reciprocal
involvement were considered.
In relation to moderate physical dating violence, in Spain, the ANOVAs
showed significant differences for the negative quality scales: transgressive
behaviors, F(2, 137) = 3.645, p = .029, η2 = .05; imbalance of power, F(2,
137) = 8.622, p = .000, η2 = .11; and conflicts, F(2, 130) = 5.770, p = .004,
η2 = .08. In all cases, the differences were between those unilaterally involved
in aggression or victimization and those not involved. In the United Kingdom,
the differences only appeared in imbalance of power, F(2, 56) = 3.570, p =
.035, η2 = .11, and conflicts, F(2, 55) = 5.076, p = .009, η2 = .16, and the dif-
ferences were between reciprocal involvement and those not involved, with
those reciprocally involved scoring higher on these variables.
Regarding severe physical dating violence, using a series of ANOVAs, the
same patterns were found for Spain and the United Kingdom. Only imbal-
ance of power—F(2, 137) = 4.225, p = .017, η2 = .06 in Spain; F(2, 56) =
4.241, p = .019, η2 = .13 in the United Kingdom—and conflicts—F(2, 130) =
10.386, p = .000, η2 = .14 in Spain; F(2, 55) = 5.870, p = .005, η2 = .18 in the
United Kingdom—showed statistical differences, having higher rates for
those reciprocally involved in physical dating violence than those not
involved.
Discussion
This cross-national study aimed to examine in some depth the phenomenon
of physical dating violence in Spain and the United Kingdom considering not
only the main characteristics of this form of violence but also comparing it
across two European countries. A cross-national comparison of dating vio-
lence is valuable as research has indicated that there may be differences
between countries that might shape the characteristics of the romantic
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Viejo et al. 15
relationships related to aggressive behaviors, even when the phenomenon of
dating violence has shown very similar rates around Europe (Leen et al.,
2013; Straus, 2004). The current study has added to the research in this field.
Regarding the measurement of the prevalence and forms of physical dat-
ing violence in both countries, our study reported similar data for Spain and
the United Kingdom. Looking broadly, the findings indicate an infrequent
and reciprocal involvement as the most common pattern for both boys and
girls, both in Spain and the United Kingdom. However, more detailed analy-
ses show that there are some interesting differences between the two
countries.
About 25% of the adolescents surveyed in Spain and the United Kingdom
reported involvement in physical dating violence (either moderate or severe
forms). These rates are very similar to those reported in previous interna-
tional studies (Katz et al., 2002; Menesini & Nocentini, 2008) but higher than
those found in earlier studies in the United Kingdom (Barter et al., 2009;
Hird, 2000). However, they are closer to levels reported in previous Spanish
studies (Muñoz-Rivas et al., 2007; Sánchez et al., 2008), even considering
that occasional violence is reported by more participants than frequent vio-
lence (Foshee & McNaughton Reyes, 2011; O’Leary & Woodin, 2009).
There appeared to be some differences by country in relation to the sever-
ity of the behavior. The results in the current study indicated slightly different
patterns for Spain and the United Kingdom. The pattern of results found in
the U.K. sample is similar to that reported in other studies, with more involve-
ment in milder forms of violence than in the most severe forms (aggression:
31.1% vs. 27.9%; victimization: 29% vs. 21%). However, in Spain, this pat-
tern is slightly different. For victimization, involvement is slightly higher for
milder forms compared with severe forms (22.2% vs. 21%). However, the
trend is reversed in relation to involvement in aggression, with involvement
in severe forms higher than involvement in milder forms (18.2% vs. 24.5%).
According to Archer (2006), this could relate to cultural influences on the
interpretation of dating violence. Severe forms are more common in Spain
than in the United Kingdom may be because, in Spain, those mild expres-
sions of violence are more accepted and the adolescents go ahead. Goodwin
(2013) noted that some studies based on cross-cultural differences related to
relationships have established a difference between “contact” cultures and
“non-contact” cultures (Hall, 1976). In contrast to Spain, which is considered
to be a “contact” culture, the predominant culture in the United Kingdom is
“non-contact”; thus, probably many of the mild aggressive contact behaviors
are more censured in the United Kingdom than in Spain.
Nevertheless, perhaps it could also relate to a methodological issue. As
indicated by Viejo et al. (2014), this may be because the original version of
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16 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
the CTS (Straus et al., 1996) considered all of these behaviors within a single
factor of violence, including more mild and serious types of violence (beat-
ing, trying to choke, etc.). Thus, the questionnaire itself could difficulty this
double identification for the adolescents. However, Viejo et al. noted that
girls were more sensitive to the differentiation in terms of the severity of the
type of behavior than boys, which replicates data in the current study.
Finally, in relation to the directionality of the violence, as the previous
literature has shown (Menesini et al., 2011; Swahn et al., 2010), most of those
who were involved in physical dating violence did not take just one role
within the violence, most were reciprocally involved (in both aggression and
victimization). In this sense, and in contrast to what Archer (2006) found and
what might be suggested by considering the Gender Inequality Index (United
Nations Development Programme, 2014)), young people in Spain and the
United Kingdom report similar patterns of behavior and experiences in rela-
tion to dating violence.
Considering these characteristics of the phenomenon, it could be pre-
sumed that most of these young people were involved in dirty dating as
described by Ortega and Sánchez (2011). Such a dynamic could be a crude
way of establishing a dating relationship and would not be perceived by ado-
lescents as being “real violence.” If this is the case, then aggressive behavior
may be used occasionally and in its more moderate forms. However, cur-
rently it is not possible to conclude: this is a tentative hypothesis as in this
study it has not been assessed in relation to the significance of the violence
for those involved; this requires further, more in-depth, analysis.
The second aim of the study was regarding the relationship between cou-
ple context variables (relationship quality) and involvement (or not) in physi-
cal dating violence. According to previous studies (Fernández-Fuertes &
Fuertes, 2010; O’Leary & Smith-Slep, 2003; Vezina & Hebert, 2007), the
couple context variables are the key risk factors for dating violence, and rela-
tionship quality has been identified as one of the most influential. The find-
ings from the current study indicate that the quality of Spanish adolescents’
relationships is similar to that reported in previous studies (Sánchez et al.,
2008), and that the quality of dating relationships reported by young people
in the United Kingdom differs mainly in terms of the negative scales.
Relatedly, it has been also reported that British adolescents have relatively
negative perceptions of their peer relationships in comparison with young
people in other countries (including Spain; UNICEF, 2006). This negative
perception of peer relationships could be extended to dating relationships as
well, which may account for the higher endorsement of negative scales in the
current study, mainly relating to power imbalance and conflicts. Previous
studies have identified poor relationship quality as a risk factor for physical
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Viejo et al. 17
dating violence involvement (Fernández-Fuertes & Fuertes, 2010; O’Leary
& Smith-Slep, 2003; Vezina & Hebert, 2007). In the current study, the only
differences between those involved and not involved in physical dating vio-
lence were found in relation to the negative relationship quality scales, not
the positive relationship quality scales. Previous studies have pointed out that
the maintenance of positive dynamics within violent relationships reveals a
complex undercurrent of conflict resolution, elements of intimacy, and satis-
faction that makes it more difficult to withdraw from the relationship
(Giordano et al., 2010).
Nevertheless, when examining the data in relation to the severity of the
behavior, the pattern is different for moderate and severe violence as well as
for Spain and the United Kingdom. Regarding the most severe forms of vio-
lence, those Spanish and English adolescents who were reciprocally involved
in physical dating violence reported higher rates of conflict and power imbal-
ance in their relationship. This is in agreement with previous studies focused
on other forms of violence, which include unilateral and reciprocal involve-
ment. For example, research on bullying has found that those who are identi-
fied as bully-victims (who bully others and are bullied by others) often have
more adjustment problems than those who are bullies or victims (Arseneault
et al., 2006). The sample size did not enable us to examine the role of the
adolescent and their perceptions in depth; future studies could examine
whether the differences are related only to involvement (unilateral, recipro-
cal, or not involved) or also to whether an individual is the aggressor or
victim.
Moderate forms of violence present a more complex pattern. Spanish ado-
lescents who were not involved or reciprocally involved were not found to
differ on relationship quality; however, those who were unilaterally involved
reported poorer quality relationships. According to previous studies that sug-
gest that reciprocal involvement in moderate violence may be related to dirty
dating (Menesini et al., 2011; Sánchez et al., 2008; Viejo, 2014), it is possible
that those adolescents involved in this kind of violence may not perceive their
relationships as problematic. As Pellegrini (2001) pointed out, they use these
moderately violent behaviors as signals indicating interest in others or from
others. However, as this has not been directly assessed in the current study,
this is still a hypothesis.
Among the U.K. adolescents, the findings for moderate violence followed
the same pattern for severe violence: Those reciprocally involved in violence
reported the worst rates of quality in their relationships. These data differ from
the Spanish data, and although it is not possible to draw firm conclusions, they
may reflect cultural differences. It is possible that for English adolescents,
dirty dating may not occur, or at least not for physical forms of violence.
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18 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
According to Goodwin (2013), and related to the “contact” cultures versus
the “non-contact” cultures, it could be possible that adolescents in the United
Kingdom use more verbal and relational aggression as a form of dirty dating
but not physical aggression, as physical forms are considered more intrusive
and thus with more negative consequences. In this line, studies of adoles-
cents’ attitudes toward violence have reported that young people who present
less tolerance to violence are less involved in dating aggression and victim-
ization than those with higher tolerance (Muñoz-Rivas, Gámez-Guadix,
Fernández-González, & González-Lozano, 2011). Furthermore, the context
where aggression occurs is very salient for adolescents (Sears, Byers, Whelan,
& Saint-Pierre, 2006). To date, we are not aware of studies developed in the
United Kingdom regarding attitudes toward dating violence or the role of the
specific context in the justification of dating violence by individuals. Future
studies considering attitudes and also other forms of violence, including other
forms of physical violence, are needed to examine this directly.
Although the sample size and the non-balanced gender distribution have
limited the analyses performed, this work represents a step forward in our
understanding of the phenomenon of dating violence in the United Kingdom
where this is still relatively under-researched. At the same time, this repre-
sents an innovation in terms of making a cross-cultural comparison of Spain
and the United Kingdom, highlighting that contextual factors are key to
understanding this complex phenomenon.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was funded by the project
“Violencia Escolar y Juvenil: los riesgos del cortejo violento, la agresión sexual y el
ciberacoso (PSI-2010-17246)” into the National I+D+i.
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Author Biographies
C. Viejo is a Lecturer in Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University
of Cordoba (Spain). Her primary areas of research are Dating Violence and
Adolescent’s Development.
C. P. Monks is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology in the Department of Psychology and
Counselling at the University of Greenwich, U.K.. Her primary areas of teaching are
research methods and developmental psychology. Her researching field is Bullying
and Interpersonal Violence during childhood and adolescence.
V. Sanchez is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology in the Department of Educational and
Developmental Psychology at the University of Seville, Spain. Her researching field
is Emotional and Relational Development and Adolescence.
R. Ortega-Ruiz is Professor in Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the
University of Cordoba, and visiting Professor in the Department of Psychology and
Counselling at the University of Greenwich. Her primary areas of teaching and research
are Bullying, School Violence and Adolescent Dating Relationships. Dr. Ortega is the
lider of the LAECOVI laboratory (www.laecovi.uco.es).
at UNIVERSIDAD DE SEVILLA on February 2, 2015jiv.sagepub.comDownloaded from
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