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Abstract

Within the complex social world that young people inhabit, in addition to traditional forms of bullying, we find other negative forms of relations which share some characteristics with bullying in terms of dominance and submission. This is true for ‘dating violence’, which we discuss in this chapter. We explore individual factors in relation to involvement in dating violence (both aggressors and victims) and the way that the peer network can ‘cover up’ the problem. We address the roles of affective-emotional links and the appearance of interpersonal violence within the network, as well as the inclusion of negative models of couples. We propose that the appearance of dominance-submission-control-violence within the first romantic relationships during adolescence may originate in the behaviours and attitudes of the peer-group. Early data on this topic (Ortega, 2008b) suggest that forms of indirect relational violence may appear within dating relationships and are aimed at controlling the behaviour, attitudes and feelings of the partner, and are difficult to detect and difficult to stop. Sexual violence, on the other hand, is worryingly more present during these first dating relationships than we thoughtp. The importance of the first romantic relationships in adolescence The biological changes that accompany adolescence play an important role in the changes which occur in the interpersonal relationships of adolescents. With sexual maturity, changes in the levels of hormones and the development of secondary sexual characteristics, adolescents begin to feel sexual attraction for others.
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
1
Chapter 6: Juvenile Dating and Violence (*)
By Rosario Ortega
1
and Virginia Sánchez
2
Summary
Within the complex social world, which young people inhabit, in addition to traditional
forms of bullying, we find other negative forms of relations that share some characteristics
with bullying in terms of dominance and submission. This is true for ‘dating violence’ which
we discuss in this chapter. We explore individual factors in relation to involvement in dating
violence (both aggressors and victims) and the way that the peer-network can ‘cover up’ the
problem. We address the roles of affective-emotional links and the appearance of
interpersonal violence within the network as well as the inclusion of negative models of
couples. We propose that the appearance of dominance-submission-control-violence within
the first romantic relationships during adolescence may originate in the behaviours and
attitudes of the peer-group. Early data on this topic (Ortega, Sanchez & Ortega-Rivera, 2008)
suggests that forms of indirect relational violence may appear within dating relationships and
are aimed at controlling the behaviour, attitudes and feelings of the partner, and are difficult
to detect and difficult to stop. Sexual violence, on the other hand, is worryingly more present
than we thought during these first dating relationships.
1
Departamento de Psicología. Universidad de Córdoba, Spain
2
Departamento de Psicología Evolutiva y de la Educación. Universidad de Sevilla. Spain
…………….
(*) Agradecemos la financiación del Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (2008-Pr.Ex- 0106) recibida por la
primera autora para realizar una estancia de 8 meses en el Department of Psychology and
Counseling.University of Greenwich que ha permitido realizar este trabajo.
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
2
1. The importance of the first romantic relationships in adolescence
The biological changes that accompany adolescence play an important role in the changes
which occur in the interpersonal relationships of adolescents. With sexual maturity,
changes in the levels of hormones and the development of secondary sexual
characteristics, adolescents begin to feel sexual attraction for others. This results in
changes in the quality and form of their social relations. Some adolescents move from
being friends to being the object of desire of their peers. On other occasions a new peer
becomes the recipient of a new and powerful feeling: love. From this new emotional
perspective, many interpersonal encounters are focussed on demonstrating (either
implicitly or explicitly) one individual’s interest and attraction for another.
The majority of adolescent couples develop within the larger peer network. As is known
(Maccoby, 1998), adolescent groups gradually move from being sex-segregated to
becoming mixed sex. Additionally, social groups become less centred on play and start to
become places where adolescents can express or experiment with these new dimensions
of their lives and identity in leisure activities. In this sense, adolescents need to develop
ways of managing and expressing their erotic-sexual emotions in accordance with the
norms and social conventions of their culture. This process is not simple. For years,
young people have spent their time almost exclusively in same gender groups. Within
these groups they have developed relational styles and have a representation of
themselves and how they should behave with their peers of the opposite sex, which is
often heavily influenced by gender stereotypes. Dating involves a continuous process of
adjustments of desires, attitudes and sexual and emotional behaviours. It is a complex
negotiation because the task requires an intimacy which can be very difficult to manage.
However, these difficulties appear to be solved quickly, although not always perfectly so.
Usually, once stable couples form within a mixed sex group, they gradually abandon the
larger group and spend more time together as a couple.
Research describes the importance that these early romantic relationships have for
adolescents. Approximately 25% of adolescents between 11 and 13 years state that they
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
3
have had a girlfriend/boyfriend, whilst in later adolescence we find that only one in every
four have had no experience of dating (Collins, 2003; Furman, 1999; Menesini &
Nocentini, 2008; Muñoz-Rivas, Andreu, Graña, O’Leary & González, 2007a). From our
recent research (Sánchez, Ortega-Rivera, Ortega & Viejo, 2008) we have found lower
levels: only 8% of adolescents between 17 and 20 years had no experience of dating.
To have a girlfriend/boyfriend during adolescence appears to impact positively on
identity and satisfies the desire and need for intimacy and an emotional and sexual bond
with another person (Furman & Shaffer, 2003). A recent study conducted with Dutch
adolescents between 12 and 18 years of age, found that satisfaction with the relationship
was associated with higher levels of intimacy and trust within the relationship and with
the presence of intense emotions such as passion (Overbeek, Ha, Scholte, Kemp &
Engels, 2007).
Considering the importance and value of these first romantic relationships, research in
this area has not always explored them from a psychosocial or developmental perspective.
As reported by Collins (2003), many of the pioneering studies of romantic relationships
were conducted from a clinical perspective and from a quasi-pathological position,
minimising the potentially positive impact that these relationships may have on
adolescent development. Many studies on dating have focussed on the psychosocial risks
for adolescents, particularly on the risk of sexual relationships for teenage pregnancies
and early parenthood. It is not surprising therefore that, from this standpoint, it is
concluded that the motivations that guide adolescents in search of a partner are sexual,
particularly for boys (Hofstede, 1998). However, recent research has contradicted these
findings. A research conducted in the United States has found that the most important
reasons that guide boys to become involved in romantic relationships are emotional and
relational (Smiler, 2008), rather than sexual. Furthermore, many studies have confirmed
that erotic-sexual relationships tend to strengthen in the long-term into the construction of
romantic relationships (Carver, Joyner & Udry, 2003; Rice, 1990). Research has found
that most adolescents of approximately 17 years of age agreed that they maintain stable
romantic relationship characterised by trust and intimacy (Collins, 2003; Menesini &
Nocentini, 2008; Ortega, Ortega-Rivera & Sánchez, 2008; Connolly, Craig, Goldberg &
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
4
Pepler, 2004; Sánchez, et al., 2008). Adolescents perceive these lasting relationships as
contexts for trust which provide them with security, mutuality, reciprocity and support
(Collins, 2003; Feiring, 1996; Furman & Wehner, 1994; 1997; Martínez, 1997; Martínez
& Fuertes, 1999).
This approach notes the benefit that for adolescent couples have the formation of an
affective bond has derived into theories, which try to explain the development of romantic
relationships. Connolly and colleagues (Connolly, Craig, Goldberg & Pepler, 1999;
Connolly et al., 2004; Connolly & Goldberg, 1999) proposed a sequential developmental
model with stages which enable us to understand the development and consolidation of
these dating relationships during adolescence, considering as well the qualitative changes
that occur within these relationships. The first phase is characterised by the predominance
of physical attraction which does not have to be accompanied by any real interaction. The
first dates occur during the second phase which tend to occur within the larger peer-
group, which at this age is made up of large mixed-sex gangs who get together to pass
their free time. In the third phase, the couples have their first dates on their own away
from the large group, but they are dates which are characterised by their casual nature.
Finally, during the fourth phase the couple spends more time together away from the
group, with their relationship showing progressive increases in intimacy and commitment
(Connolly et al., 2004). Our research in Latin cultures such as Spain and Italy has only
partially confirmed this tendency.in the development of dating relationships. We have
found that young people are often part of a couple without abandoning the larger group of
peers until they are older (Menesini & Nocentini, 2008; Ortega, Ortega-Rivera &
Sánchez, 2008), and at the same time a significant proportion of adolescents report that
they are in a stable relationship. We interpret these results as an expression of certain
cultural differences in behavioural styles in which the social group has a more dominant
role throughout the life-cycle. To be a member of a social group for leisure activities is
highly valued in Mediterranean countries.
In conclusion, research indicates that the romantic relationships formed by adolescents
are an important developmental landmark and are an important social context for
adolescents. This does not indicate that both dimensions; the individual socio-emotional
factors and the dyadic context are free of difficulties. Adolescents report that one of the
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
5
main disadvantages of having a boyfriend/girlfriend is the large number of conflicts and
discussions that result from the relationship (Overbeek, et al., 2007). In addition, research
over the past 20 years has found that the adolescent dating relationship can present a
particularly violent social context, more so than among adult couples (Jackson, Cram &
Seymour, 2000). In the following sections we focus on examining this worrying aspect of
adolescent relationships further.
2. Violence in adolescent couples: studies on dating violence
The first consideration to keep in mind when examining violence among adolescent
couples is to note that historically, research in this area has been strongly influenced by
research on domestic violence at both, the theoretical and empirical level (González &
Santana, 2001; Makepeace, 1981; Magdol, Moffit, Caspi, Newman, Fagan & Sliva,
1998).,In particular, this legacy is seen in the instruments used by researchers which come
from traditional explorations of gender violence.
The high prevalence rates of aggression and other violent behaviours, which are found
among adult couples, are found among adolescent couples. However, it may be that
researchers have included behaviours in the same category of offensiveness or criminality
among adolescents, which may not be similar due to the adolescent couples’ relationships
being more short-lived. It is also important to consider the ways in which these
behaviours are interpreted and accepted (or not) by those involved. Behaviours which are
considered as offensive or harassing by someone who is not attracted to the other may be
interpreted by someone who is interested as the initiation of dating or vice versa. The
analysis of violence within the adolescent couple may be more complex as it is important
to note the developmental dimension and immaturity of young people in relation to
dating. This means that many of the patterns of interaction among young couples are still
not clearly defined.
In this chapter we examine violence, more or less persistent, which takes place among
adolescent couples (dating violence). This construct refers to a behaviour which is
aggressive in nature and occurs within an adolescent couple. Forms of dating violence
vary from verbal violence (insults) to psychological violence (threats of different types,
including emotional blackmail), to physical violence (pushes, slaps, punches, beatings)
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
6
and sexual violence (from pressure to have sexual contact to rape). Less severe forms of
violence are surprisingly frequent, whilst the most serious forms are less frequent,
although both form part of the lives of some adolescent couples.
To date, most research has been conducted in the United States and Canada, and only
more recently in European countries. Since 1957 when Kanin conducted the first study
with university students, there have been only a moderate number of studies on this topic.
However, there has been an increase in this in recent years. Kanin’s research alerted
researchers to the existence of violence in the relationships of young couples, noting that
approximately 62% of students in their first year at university said that they had suffered
aggression at the hands of their partner in the last year (Kanin, 1957).
The prevalence rates of studies conducted in Europe and North America have not been
less alarming and controversial, with indices which have varied between 20% and 60%
(Archer, 2000; Chase, Treboux, O’Leary & Strassberg, 1998; Hird, 2000; Fernández-
Fuertes & Fuertes, 2005; Lewis & Fremouw, 2000; Menesini & Nocentini, 2008; Moffit-
Caspi, Rutter & Silva, 2002; Muñoz-Rivas, et al., 2007a; Ortega et al., 2008; Sánchez et
al., 2008). In the United Kingdom, a study conducted with 1041 students between 13 and
19 years (Hird, 2000) showed a prevalence rate of 50% of adolescents who reported that
they had been assaulted by their partners physically, psychologically or sexually. In
Spain, González and Santana (2001) showed that around 7% of adolescents were
involved in direct physical violence as the perpetrator whilst involvement in verbal
violence was higher; 23.9% of males and 28.8% of females. More recently, Muñoz-Rivas
et al. (2007a) found much higher levels; around 90% of students aged 16-20 years had, at
some point, verbally abused their partner, whilst 40% had been physically violent towards
them. The most severe forms of physical violence (trying to choke, beat up, threaten with
a knife, weapon) were perpetrated by 4.6% of males and 2% of females. Females were
more likely than males to use verbal, psychological and less severe forms of physical
violence. In contrast, male participants were more likely than females to use more severe
physical violence. In this study there was also a significant effect of age on the type of
violence used. Younger participants were more likely than older participants to use
physical forms. Verbal violence was equally frequent independent of age.
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
7
In 2004, Straus conducted a study of the experiences of dating violence with university
students from 16 different countries, examining similarities and differences between them
and highlighting the high level of assault perpetrated by students in each of the countries.
It was found that an average of 29% of students had been physically assaulted by their
partners, whilst 7% had been the perpetrators of this violence (Strauss, 2004).
Many researchers have analysed the different prevalence rates found by studies in
methodological terms. Researchers have suggested that the different definitions of dating
violence used, the type of instrument employed and the age and sex of the participants
may have an effect on the results obtained. Additionally, the criteria used to estimate the
global level of violence (only one, or different indices of violence; only considering
frequent and persistent violence or all of those who reported the behaviour regardless of
persistence), the temporal criteria used as a reference (during the last year or the last few
months), and the consideration of the experience of dating violence ever or the presence
of dating violence in the current dating relationship (Archer, 2000; Lewis & Fremouw,
2000; Menesini & Nocentini, 2008; O’Keefe, 2005; Sharey, Cornellius & Bell, 2008)
may influence the prevalence rates recorded.
Without doubt, sex differences have been the most studied and the most controversial
aspect of research on dating violence. Some studies have found no difference between
males and females in relation to aggression (Moffit et al., 2002; Brendgen, Vitaro,
Tremblay & Wanner, 2002); others have found higher prevalence rates among females
(Archer, 2000; Sánchez et al., 2008), whilst in Italy, the rates of aggression have been
higher among males (Menesini & Nocentini, 2008). These contradictory results are
maintained when the different types of violence are examined separately. Research in
Spain has concluded that males use more serious physical aggression than females, whilst
females use more verbal, relational or psychological forms (Muñoz-Rivas et al, 2007a;
Sánchez et al, 2008). From this it is possible to conclude that it is more likely that females
receive more serious forms of aggression (such as serious physical injuries) than males
(Muñoz-Rivas et al, 2007b). In terms of less serious physical forms, the results are less
conclusive, with some studies reporting that females are more likely than males to use
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
8
these forms of violence, whereas others report similar levels across genders. The meta-
analysis conducted by Archer (2000) clarified this data by analysing differences between
males and females of different ages and in relation to different types of violence. Archer
concluded that girls/young women were more likely than boys/young men to physically
assault their partners, at least between the ages of 14 to 22 years, whilst between the ages
of 23-29 years, men were more likely than women to use physical aggression against their
partner (Archer, 2000).
The results are more conclusive in relation to sexual violence. Several studies have shown
that adolescent males are more likely to sexually assault their partners (Fernández-Fuertes
& Fuertes-Martín, 2005; Menesini & Nocentini, 2008; Ortega et al, 2008) or their peers
(Ortega et al, 2008). In addition, females report that they suffer more sexual aggression
and harassment than males (Bennett & Fineran, 1998; Foshee, 1996; O’Keefe, 2005).
Age is another variable which has been of interest in research on dating violence.
However, as has been noted earlier, very few studies have analysed violence from a
developmental perspective across adolescence and during the first years of adult life. In
spite of the parallels between the initial studies into dating violence and domestic
violence, very few studies have concentrated on analysing changes over time in a
systematic manner. To date, the findings have been somewhat controversial. An
important consideration is that most studies which have looked at the effect of age on
violence in couples have used samples of young adults, approximately 20 years old or
more and have concentrated on the analysis of violence against the female partner
(Capaldi & Kim, 2002; O’Leary, 1999). In this respect, Archer (2000) found that the
development of aggression was different among younger and older samples in relation to
sex: before the age of 22, females presented higher levels of aggression, whereas after this
age, males were more aggressors. The results found by Capaldi and Kim (2002) clarified
the conclusions of Archer by considering the stability of the couple’s relationship as a
mediating variable in the development of violence by males and young men towards their
female partners. The authors found that, in general, there was a drop in violence of males
towards their female partners between the ages of 20 and 27 years. When controlling for
stable couples, the pattern was slightly different. There was still a decline between 20 to
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
9
25 years, but, violence then increased after the age of 25. However, when there was lower
stability in the couple’s relationship, there was an increase in male violence between the
ages of 20 and 25 years which then began to decrease after this age. The authors explain
this peak in violence at 25 years in part by the higher level of involvement in romantic
relationships at this age in comparison to earlier ages (Capaldi, Shortt & Kim, 2005).
Most research in this area has been cross-sectional, and only recently have longitudinal
studies been carried out in this area. This means that currently little is known about the
development of dating violence during early and mid-adolescence. Nocentini (2008)
conducted one of the first longitudinal studies of the development of physical violence in
adolescent couples between the ages of 16 and 18 years. Nocentini concluded that,
controlling for couple stability, there was a decrease in violence between 16 and 18 years,
and that girls began to decrease their levels of physical aggression towards partners
earlier than boys (Nocentini, 2008).
One area of recent interest among researchers is the prevalence of dating violence among
gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents (GLBA). Results about prevalence rates are mixed.
Some studies show that dating victimization among GLBA couples is as frequent as
among heterosexual couples. Freedner and colleagues (2002) interviewed 521 GLB and
heterosexual 13-22 years old adolescents. The authors found that 44.6% of gay, 43.4% of
lesbian and around 50% of bisexual boys and girls had experienced any type of physical,
psychological, and threatened to outing in the hand of their partner whilst around 30% of
heterosexual boys and girls reported had experienced any type of dating abuse (Freedner,
Freed, Yang and Austin, 2002). Halpern, Young, Waller, Martin and Kupper (2004)
found lower rates of psychological and minor forms of physical violence between 12-21
years old adolescents in same-sex relationships. Trish, Connolly, Pepler and Craig (2003)
found that self-identified gay, lesbian, bisexual, and questioning high school adolescents
from a national Canadian sample were more likely to suffer physical dating than their
heterosexual peers. Regarding specific sexual minorities, studies seem to conclude that
bisexual adolescents and young adults are more likely to suffer any type of dating
violence in comparison to lesbian and gay adolescents (Freedner, et al., 2002; Moore and
Waterman, 1999), and that girls in same-sex relationships suffer more psychological
violence and physical violence than boys.
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
10
One of the main conclusions of these studies is the methodological considerations to have
in mind in order to understand this disparity in the results. For example, one important
issue is the sample size and the difficulty to recruit representative samples of GLBA
(Freedner et al., 2002). Another methodological issue is the consideration of sexual
behaviour or sexual identity in the definition of GLBA (Savin-William 1995). For
example, Trish et al (2003) found that around the 40% of adolescents of their study were
still questioning their sexual orientation whilst just the 9% self-identified as gay or
lesbian. That’s why other studies interviewed adolescents in same-sex relationships
without take into consideration their sexual orientation (Halpern et al., 2004). At this
respect, Freedner et al (2002) underline the important effect of the sex of the partner when
examining dating violence among GLBA because most of them can be in opposite-sex
relationships.
In conclusion, although studies are not very conclusive, GLBA dating violence rates are
very preoccupant or at lest, as preoccupant as in heterosexual adolescent couples.
3. Dating violence and the quality of romantic relationships
Coming from a developmental and psychosocial perspective, we have examined the
positive impact of being part of a couple on social and emotional development in
adolescence. We will now look at the impact of dating violence on the quality of romantic
relationships in adolescence.
One of the most conclusive findings on this topic has been that there is a higher level of
violence in more stable relationships, although that is not to say that they are couples who
are more satisfied with their relationship (Furman & Buhrmester, 1992; Menesini &
Nocentini, 2008; Shulman & Scharf, 2000). It is necessary to highlight the importance of
relationship satisfaction and the functioning of the couple in trying to understand dating
violence. Studies demonstrate that couples characterised by higher levels of violence
present also higher levels of conflicts, imbalance of power within the couple, discussions
and less satisfaction in general with the relationship (Bookwala, Frieze & Grote, 1994;
Sánchez et al., 2008).
We have recently examined this relation among quality and violence. Ortega et al. (2008)
conducted a study with 524 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 20 years. It was found
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
11
that adolescents with a current or previous partner (within the last 6 months) whose
relationship involved aggressive behaviours with their partner felt that there was a lot of
conflict and inequality of power within their relationship. However, paradoxically, they
also stated that they felt very satisfied and had positive expectations for the future of their
relationship, even more so than those who were not involved in dating violence. The fact
that these adolescents had relationships with partners which were stable over time (one
year or more), appears to suggest that for some adolescents, the benefits of the emotional-
relational dynamic of the relationship appears to be contaminated by violence and
conflict, although this does not make them think about breaking up or changing the nature
of the relationship. We have called this perception of intimate relationships ‘dirty dating’
(Ortega et al., 2008). Although we are still examining this phenomenon, we hypothesise
that a passive acceptance that being part of a couple includes a certain inequality of
power,,toleration of aggressive conflicts and direct violence may be at the heart of young
people’s understanding of these relationships. This vision is similar to a dramatic and
romanticised notion of love.
One of the most relevant findings from research is the large number of adolescents who
assault their partners and are assaulted by them at the same time. Gray and Foshee (1997)
found that 66% of students in their study were involved in mutual violence, results that
have been confirmed by later studies in other countries (Capaldi, Kim & Shortt, 2004;
Fernández-Fuertes, Fuertes & Pulido, 2006; Hird, 2000; Menesini & Nocentini, 2008;
Menesini et al., in press; Werkele & Wolfe, 1999; Whitaker, Haileyesus, Swahn &
Saltzman, 2007). These studies confirm that in more adolescent couples than previously
expected, there exists a violent and reciprocal dynamic which includes large inequalities
of power and dominance of one over the other. In these adolescent couples conflict,
coercion and violence form a part of their daily lives which feeds back to their coping
style and in consequence the maintenance and increase of aggression and violence.
4. Theories and hypotheses for dating violence in adolescence
As Sharey et al. (2008) have underlined, although we can confirm that dating violence is
a fairly frequent phenomenon among adolescent couples in Europe and America, little
attention has focussed on the development of theories that could help to understand these
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
12
behaviours among adolescents. To date, there is no clear theoretical model which can
successfully explain the large variety of types of aggression which are found within this
context and this age group.
Traditionally, there have been four theoretical models which have been proposed
regarding dating violence (Werkele & Wolfe, 1999; Sharey et al., 2008): social learning
theory, attachment theory, feminist theory and coercion/conflict theory. Recently new
research has used integrative approaches of the four models presenting very interesting
results which contribute to the research on this topic. Within the following sections we
will analyse dating violence from traditional to more recent theories.
Attachment theory
Attachment theory explains the unique and powerful nature of the different forms of
emotional attachment in terms of the ways in which they impact on the individual’s life.
From secure and stable attachments, which are flexible and well-developed, to insecure,
unstable, rigid or scarcely operating, one can describe a continuum of attachment which
relates to general psychological adjustment and the presence/absence of personal and
social psychological problems. According to the theory developed by Bowlby (1969), in
the first years of life and through the formation of emotional relationships with the main
figures in the child’s emotional life (normally parents, or caregivers), children develop
general styles of relating with others (attachment styles). Through these relationships they
develop internal mental representations which are then used as a basis for later
relationships. Basic aspects of personality, such as trust in ourselves and others, and in the
type of relationships we are able to make with others, depend on these models, known as
internal working models. They also help us to understand why we choose some people
and not others as our possible partners (Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Werkele & Wolfe, 1999).
Applied to problems of dating violence, attachment theory suggests that victims and
aggressors are those individuals whose attachments with their primary caregivers are
based on a lack of trust, on the continuum of dominance-submission and emotional
control. Research conducted in this area has confirmed that boys and girls who have
insecure attachments come from families in which they have been mistreated and present
a higher risk of becoming involved in dating violence (Werkele & Wolfe, 1998).
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
13
Nevertheless, other studies have questioned whether there is a direct link between
attachment and dating violence, as it has been found that a significant number of
adolescents who have secure attachments assault their partners (Schwartz, Hage, Bush, &
Burns, 2006). This suggests the influence of other personal and contextual variables
which could moderate the relationship between these two variables..
Social learning theory
Bandura (1977) postulated that human beings learn by exposure to and imitation of the
behaviour of others. Applying to violence, repeated exposure to violent contexts within
life, as a witness or direct recipient could provide the basis for a later expression of
violence in different contexts and situations. According to this theory, learning violent
behaviour within the family setting could explain the expression of violence in other
contexts such as the dating relationship (O’Leary, 1988). A number of studies have
supported this model, some reporting that being exposed to family violence during
infancy increases the risk of behaving aggressively with a partner (González & Santana,
2001; Linders & Collins, 2005). Others have emphasized the moderating role of other
variables such as the quality of the couple’s relationship or individual personality. So, the
regulation and expression of anger may be influenced by the intergenerational
transmission of violence. Wolfe and Foshee (2003) demonstrated that the way in which
an individual learns to express anger from his/her family context is related to the way in
which anger is expressed in adolescence. The authors classified adolescents in relation to
the different styles they used to express anger, finding that the destructive style,
characterised by aggression towards the person who is the object of the anger, was
directly related to aggression within the adolescent dating relationship.
One of the most important contributions of social learning theory is that it can explain the
transmission of aggression and violence across contexts. Some authors have analysed the
transmission of violence from the peer context to the dating context (Pepler, Craig,
Connolly, Yuile, & McMaster, 2006; Ortega et al., 2008).Connolly et al. (2000) and
Pepler et al. (2006) analysed the predictive effect of bullying on dating violence from a
developmental perspective, taking into account the predictive or moderating effect of the
physical and biological changes that accompany adolescence. From their theoretical
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
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model, the authors considered that bullying is a behaviour which is aimed at obtaining
power and domination over others, a tendency which aggressive individuals then take to
the new forms of relationships which appear during adolescence; i.e. mixed-sex groups
and early dating relationships. The authors interviewed 479 students between the ages of
13 and 19 years, using measures of direct involvement in bullying, being the recipient or
perpetrator of sexual harassment, involvement in dating violence and changes related to
puberty. The authors concluded that whilst the prevalence of bullying decreased across
adolescence, the presence of sexual harassment and dating violence increased. The
appearance of these new types of violence also coincided with changes related to puberty.
In support of their hypotheses, those who passed puberty early were those who became
involved in these new types of aggression earlier on as well. In spite of the different
trajectories of bullying, sexual harassment and dating violence, the results showed
positive correlations between the three forms of aggression among peers, demonstrating
therefore, the important risk factor that involvement in bullying during primary and
secondary school has for the personal and social adjustment of adolescents.
Work by Ortega and colleagues (Ortega et al., 2008; Ortega & Mora-Merchán, 2008) has
also analysed the transmission of violence across contexts, within the peer group and
from the peer group to the context of the couple. The authors examined the key role that
dominance-submission within the relationship plays in the dynamic of violence and how
this is maintained and repeated in different relational contexts.To date, results in this area
are preliminary, although they appear to confirm this theoretical position. For example,
with respect to the transmission of sexual harassment from peers to dating context, the
authors found important correlations between sexual harassment among peers, and within
the couple and weak correlations for victimisation in these two contexts. The correlation
between sexually harassing others and being sexually harassed in different contexts was
weak. Nevertheless, highly significant correlations appear between aggression and
victimisation in the couple scenario, which suggests the important effect of the couple as
individual and specific context in the appearance and maintenance of violence (Ortega et
al., 2008).
Feminist theory
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
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Feminist theory (Walker, 1989) has made important contributions to understanding
violence within adult and adolescent couples. From this ideological, sociological and
psychological perspective, violence within couples is the expression of an inequality of
social power which exists between men and women as a consequence of the patriarchal
society in the majority of western and non-western societies. This imbalance of power
places men in a dominant position and women in a more submissive position, being at
more risk of suffering violence at the hands of their partners. Various factors support the
feminist explanation of violence within young couples: the desire for control and the
maintenance of power by men over women (Barnett et al., 1997; González & Santana,
2001), as well as rigid sexist attitudes about male and female roles based on misogyny
and blaming women for violence. Recent research has found these beliefs to still be
present among young people, including university students (Ferrer, Bosh, Ramis, Torres
& Navarro, 2006) and are particularly representative and defining of the personalities of
those who are violent towards their partners (Lichter & McClosey, 2004).
From this perspective, aggression by girls and women towards their male partners is
analysed in terms of self-defence and not motivated by a desire for control or power
which characterises violence carried out by men. Nevertheless, a vision of women solely
being reactive does not fit well with the results which have appeared in recent research.
Some studies has found on about 50% of occasions that girls start the aggression (Moffit
et al., 2002), whilst other studies have found significantly more girls than boys have
stated that they attacked their partner first, with boys being more likely than girls to use
self-defence as a justification for their actions (Muñoz-Rivas et al., 2007b). Similarly,
other studies have found that among the motivations used by girls/women to assault their
partner are those which are personal and based on the established dynamics in the
intimate relationship more than self-defence (Stuart, Moore, Gordon, Hellmuth, Ramsey,
& Kahler, 2006) or intense emotional states such as momentary anger or rage (Muñoz-
Rivas et al., 2007b).
Additionally, the high level of involvement of girls in the phenomenon of dating violence
also brings the feminist perspective into question. As noted earlier from descriptive
statistics, many studies have found a similar (Moffit et al., 2002 among others) or higher
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
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(Archer, 2000 among others) level of involvement by girls than boys in the use of
aggression within the adolescent dating relationship.
Conflict or coercion theory
Conflict or coercion theory places the origin of dating and domestic violence on much
more proximal factors, in particular on the conflict dynamics which are found among
some adolescent and adult couples. From this point of view, relationships where coercion
and control are used as a way of resolving conflicts would be where we would be more
likely to find aggression between the couple (Feld & Straus, 1989). It is therefore a
perspective that considers reciprocal conflict and violence as an interactional style used
by the couple which begins in adolescence, and becomes more established and
perpetuates itself over time. This approach does not focus exclusively on the individual
characteristics of each member of the couple, but on the styles of interaction that occur
between them.
Some researchers, such as Gray and Foshee (1997) and Menesini et al. (in press) have
confirmed this perspective, noting that these couples are also at higher risk for conflicts,
discussions and dissatisfaction with their partner. Werkele and Wolfe (1999) confirmed
that these couples have serious difficulties in the use of prosocial strategies and finding
solutions. They also have important problems in emotion regulation (Cummings & Davis,
1996) which in some way reinforces the use of coercive and aggressive strategies in the
day-to-day life of the couple. This also increases the likelihood that they will continue to
use aggression within their relationship and that it will become a habitual form of
interaction (Feld & Strauss, 1989; Werkele & Wolfe, 1999). One of the aspects which has
been most studied in this area has been the regulation of anger, which in many studies has
been found to be directly related to aggression in adolescent and adult couples (Harned,
2001; Muñoz-Rivas et al., 2007b; Nocentini, 2008; Riggs & O’Leary, 1989; among
others).
Nevertheless, there are studies which question this approach. Recent studies have
concluded that although conflict resolution strategies which involve coercion and control
are found within couples where violence is a problem, they are also found within couples
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
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where violence does not occur (Katz, Jones & Beach, 2000) which suggests the co-
occurrence of other variables which may provide a clearer explanation of the
phenomenon.
The Dynamic Developmental Systems approach
Authors such as Capaldi, Shortt and Crossby (2003) and O’Leary and Slep (2003), have
noted the importance of the development of models which prioritise the study of the dyad
rather than models which have been centred on the study of the individual. From this,
Capaldi, Kim and Shortt (2004) and Capaldi and Kim (2007) have developed a theoretical
model which provides an approach which attempts to explain the behaviour of the couple
as a dynamic developmental system. In this sense, the behavioural dynamic which is
established by the couple is understood as an intrinsically interactive system but, at times,
defined by the individual developmental characteristics of both members of the couple
and by contextual factors which affect each member of the couple.
The contribution of this model rests in the possibility of considering the different aspects
which are involved in the explanation of violence in couples’ relationships. These are
aspects which relate to the biology of those involved, their individual characteristics,
contextual factors and their social experiences in the different micro-contexts in which
they participate, principally family and peers (Capaldi et al., 2005). As well, these aspects
must be considered in relation to development. The way in which they develop over time
will form part of the process under investigation: the characteristics of each member of
the couple are a product of their development and include biological aspects as well as
socialisation, and therefore evolve and change over time.
According to this model, three main factors are important in understanding the origin and
development of violence among adolescent couples. The first factor refers to the
individual characteristics of the couple which may affect their relationship, such as
aspects of personality, psychopathological characteristics and those characteristics which
were learnt and reinforced within the family and peer contexts. The second factor relates
to the contextual risk factors which could be influential in increasing the likelihood of
aggressive episodes towards the partner, such as the use of alcohol or drugs. The third
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
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factor takes into account the nature of the relationship of the couple, the patterns of
interaction which are established in the couple and the way in which these evolve and
develop over time. From this point of view, they consider the interaction styles and the
aggressive dynamics which are established within the relationship as being predictive
factors and factors which may reinforce violence within these early dating relationships
(Capaldi et al., 2004; Capaldi & Kim, 2007).
Capaldi’s model is supported by evidence from a number of different studies. Her
approach which is developmental, multi-factorial, multi-probabilistic and integrates
diverse perspectives, allows for a much richer and comprehensive view, not only of
violence during adolescence and adulthood, but also of its development and stability over
time. Research by Capaldi and colleagues (Capaldi et al., 2003) confirmed the important
role that the relational dynamics of the couple play in understanding and predicting the
continuity and stability of violence, at least in relation to male violence. They found that
some young people who were involved in risky relationships in which physical violence
occurred, were more likely to continue to be violent (male partners only), if two years
later the couple were still together, whilst this probability decreased if the couple had
separated and they had started dating someone else (Capaldi et al., 2003). Nocentini
(2008) found a decrease in physical aggression in adolescent couples from mid to late
adolescence. This decrease was affected by factors related to certain family characteristics
and individual experiences, as well as individual factors and factors from within the
dyadic relationship such as antisocial behaviour and the perception of victimisation by the
partner. In sum, the study concluded that low educational level of mother and the number
of previous partners the adolescent had had, placed them at higher risk of being
aggressive at age 16 compared with the rest of those studied. On the other hand, the use
of physical aggression towards a partner in addition to exhibiting other forms of antisocial
behaviour and with the perception of being victimised by a partner, delayed the tendency
for the decrease in physical aggression between mid and late adolescence. These were the
adolescents who were at the greatest risk and vulnerability within the study.
5. Risk factors in the appearance and maintenance of dating violence.
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
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In order to evaluate the risk factors and to provide intervention or prevention programmes
for dating violence it is important that attention is important to considered a large body of
research. In this sense, multi-dimensional and probabilistic perspectives seem to be the
most appropriated to understand the appearance of dating violence as well as the
conditions – from personal factors to contextual issues – in which these problems tend to
repeat themselves (Cáceres & Cáceres, 2006; Lewis & Fremow, 2001; Schumacher,
Feldbau, Smith, Slep & Heyman, 2001; Schumacher, Smith, Slep & Heyman, 2001).
Many of the risk factors identified for dating violence come directly from research carried
out from the different perspectives and theoretical models mentioned earlier. Some
researchers have focussed on family experiences, social contexts (particularly peer
contexts), sociodemographic factors, individual difference factors (such as certain
personality factors) and the co-occurrence of other risk factors (such as smoking, drinking
alcohol or drug taking). We will now examine the most relevant current literature on this
topic.
Research into the influence of sociodemographic factors in the prediction of dating
violence has not yet produced many conclusive results. Traditionally, the variables
studied have been family composition, socioeconomic status (SES), place of residence,
ethnicity and sex. Some studies have indicated that boys who are from a low SES
background are more at risk of involvement in violence (Makepeace, 1987; O’Keefe,
1998), although for many authors these results are not entirely conclusive (O’Keefe,
2005). In relation to the area of residence, research appears to conclude that violence
among adolescent couples occurs independently of the zone of residence. Some studies
have found that there is more violence in urban areas (Makepeace, 1987), whilst others
have found that there are higher levels of dating violence in rural areas (Reuterman &
Burky, 1989). Another important variable for research has been family composition.
Several different studies have shown that adolescents from single parent families are
more at risk of being involved in dating violence (Foshee, Karriker-Jafee, Reyes, Ennet,
Suchindram, Bauman & Benefield, 2008; Makepeace, 1987). Highly related to the
variables just mentioned is the level of parental education. Low levels of parental
education also increased the risk for being involved in dating violence, above all when it
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
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is mediated by other variables such as sexist attitudes or family violence (Foshee et al.,
2008).
With respect to family factors, a number of studies have found that parents who show
neglectful educational styles and whose relationships with their children are characterised
by an abuse of power, place their children at an increased risk of becoming involved in
violent behaviour during adolescence. A study conducted by Straus and Savage (2005)
with university students from 17 countries found that neglect and a lack of material care
(lack of hygiene, lack of help or support with school tasks…) by parents during childhood
were related to dating violence during adolescence. These results showed that boys who
had received poor levels of care by their parents during infancy and childhood were more
at risk of physically assaulting their partner during adolescence, a probability which
increased exponentially if the social context in which they lived was violent (Straus &
Savage, 2005).
In the same vein have concluded the studies which have been focused on the risk that
being victim of family violence or witnessing family violence during infancy has for
being involved in dating violence. O’Keefe (1998) found that experiencing physical abuse
during infancy significantly predicted victimisation of girls in dating relationships in
adolescence. However, this did not predict victimisation or aggression for boys. Kinsfogel
and Grych (2004) found that young people who had witnessed high levels of violence in
the family home were more at risk of becoming a victim and aggressor of their partner
later on. This study also identified that an important mediating factor in the relationship
between witnessing violence in the home and dating violence was the adolescents’??
beliefs and attitudes about violence .The authors suggest that some young people who
have witnessed violence may have learnt that this is justifiable within dating
relationships. However, this result was only significant for boys and not girls.
The peer context and experiences with peers have also been an important focus of
research on dating violence. Various studies have concluded that being violent with peers
predicts violent behaviour with a partner (Capaldi, Dishion, Stoolmiller & Yoerger,
2001), particularly for boys (Chase et al., 1998). Additionally, having violent friends who
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
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have positive attitudes towards violence predicts aggressive behaviour towards a partner
in adolescence (Arriaga & Foshee, 2004; Connolly et al., 2000). Arriaga and Foshee
(2004) found that witnessing dating violence among peers and interparental violence
significantly predicted violence within their own relationship, both as an aggressor or
victim. When looking at the relative strengths of the predictive relationships, they found
that dating violence by peers was a stronger predictor than interparental violence. In
general many studies have confirmed that proximal factors, such as peers, the
consumption of substances and the context of the dating relationship are more important
than distal factors, but that these distal factors influence dating violence in an indirect
way, often mediated by proximal factors (Foshee et al., 2008; Magdol et al., 1998;
O’Keefe, 2005).
Different personality variables and interpersonal abilities have been found to be
fundamental in the explanation of dating violence. Low self-esteem is a strong indicator
of dating aggression for boys (O’Keefe, 1997), whereas for girls it is more strongly
related to victimisation. At this respect, some authors reflected on the important influence
of self-esteem in the normalisation of violence in the context of the couple and in the
explanation of the complex process of victimisation (Lewis & Freemeouw, 2001).
Another important psychological factor which is directly related to the relational
dynamics which are established in violent adolescent couples is conflict resolution style.
As mentioned earlier, from the perspective of coercion and conflict theories, several
studies have described how some young people present serious difficulties regulating
anger and frustration when faced with conflicts (Werkele & Wolfe, 1999; Muñoz-Rivas et
al., 2007a; among others) and are aggressive, impulsive and tend to place guilt on the
partner, which reinforces this aversive relational context and results in an increase in
conflicts and discussions. As we have noted, adolescents who are involved in dating
violence find themselves in relationships which are violent, aggressive, with high levels
of conflict and where there are high levels of reciprocal and mutual violence. At this
respect, research has demonstrated that one important predictor of aggression in the
adolescent couple is the aggression and violence by the partner, at least for physical
violence (Capaldi et al., 2003; O’Leary et al., 2003). Therefore, it is probable that those
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
22
adolescents who lack skills in conflict resolution and the regulation of stress are more
likely to form relationships with other violent individuals who have similar patterns of
conflict resolution. This leads to a relational dynamic in which conflicts escalate and may
lead to violence.
Other influential factor,are the beliefs held by the individual regarding their own ability to
resolve conflicts and their feelings of self-efficacy in regulating their own emotions.
Nocentini (2008) carried out one of the first studies on the impact of the perception of
self-control of aggression towards a partner on actual physical and psychological dating
violence. The results concluded that the perception of self-efficacy in the self-regulation
of emotions in intimate relationships was related to physical and psychological aggression
via rumination and conflict. Adolescents who thought that they could not exercise any
control over their anger and rage in the face of conflicts with their partner were more
likely to use rumination, increasing the desire to get revenge or hurt their partner. In
consequence it was more likely that conflicts would not be resolved and would in fact
worsen involving the use of negative strategies for conflict resolution such as physical
and psychological aggression.
Finally, it is important to restate the importance of other proximal factors such as the
presence or co-ocurrence of other behaviour problems during adolescence. The use of
alcohol and other substances has repeatedly been found to be one of the most important
predictive factors for delinquent behaviour as well as dating violence (O’Keefe, 1997;
Silverman, Raj, Mucci, & Hathaway, 2001). However, some studies have not found this
relationship (Loh & Gidycz, 2006) and others report that it is an important predictor of
sexual aggression by males (Casey, Beadnell & Lindhorst, 2009) and sexual aggression
by males towards their partner (Koss & Dinero, 1989). It is suggested that this may occur
because alcohol and other drugs may diminish control over behaviour and distort the
perception of the situation and other intentions. Risky sexual behaviour, such as having
numerous partners at an early age, has also been found to be a predictive factor of dating
violence (Makepeace, 1987; Nocentini, 2008; O’Keefe, 2005; Werkele & Wolfe, 1999).
We do not want to finish this section without considering that these variables are not
cause-effect variables, but are dimensions which increase or decrease the probability of
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
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an individual becoming involved in dating violence. It is important to underline the
summative and/or multiplicative interactions of the co-occurrence of these factors in the
explanation and prediction of dating violence. In synthesis, we can say that it is a multi-
determined phenomenon, affected by diverse proximal and distal factors and it is the
analysis of these factors which may help in the design of prevention and intervention
programmes.
6. Implications for intervention and prevention
Prevention and intervention in couples’ violence has become an important line of work
for clinics and health professionals and in the education of adolescents. This is important
given the high and alarming prevalence rates found by international studies as well as
what we know about the trajectory of this violence across adolescence that, although not
clearly established, appears to increase and become worse into early adulthood.
The development and implementation of intervention and prevention programmes is only
relatively recent and is derived directly from the studies about risk factors of dating
violence. In accordance with O’Keefe (2005), Werkele and Wolfe (1999) and Whitaker,
Morrison, Lindquist et al. (2006), the information we present here enables professionals
to develop prevention programmes aimed at modifying or intervening in those risk factors
which are susceptible to modification or alteration by external intervention. This is the
case in interventions regarding sexist attitudes, romanticised ideas about love, beliefs
about how must to be the romantic relationships, the intervention in communication
strategies and conflict resolution oriented towards the constructive resolution of problems
and increasing awareness of dating violence and its consequences.
Most prevention and intervention programmes have been developed from and within the
educational context (Avery-Leaf, Cascardy, O’Leary & Cano, 1997; Lavoie, Vezina,
Piche & Boivin, 1995; among others) and have been primary intervention programmes.
Knowledge of their effectiveness is still controversial, due to methodological problems
which have limited the generalisability of the results. On many occasions these
programmes have been implemented with a small number of adolescents and in others the
intervention period has been very short, whilst for others the pre-post evaluation has been
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
24
carried out over a short time-frame and without the analysis of a comparison control
group (Werkele & Wolfe, 1999; Whitaker et al., 2006). However, we describe here two
programmes which have been implemented and evaluated satisfactorily, whose design
has tried to overcome those methodological problems highlighted and which have
presented promising results in changing the attitudes and beliefs of young people as well
as in reducing violent behaviour.
The Safe Date Project (Foshee, Bauman, Arriaga, Helms, Koch & Linder, 1998; Foshee,
Bauman, Ennett, Linder, Benefield, & Suchindran, 2004) is a community intervention
programme which involved 14 schools from North Carolina and was conducted with
adolescents aged between 14 and 15 years. The programme focussed on challenging
sexist attitudes, increasing knowledge about dating violence, developing conflict
resolution strategies and the establishment of networks of support and help for those
involved in dating violence. The students involved in the study were randomly assigned
to a control group or the experimental group and the evaluation of the effectiveness of the
intervention was conducted one month post-intervention, one year later and two to three
years later. The focus of the evaluation was on the change in sexist attitudes and attitudes
towards violence as well as the reduction of physical, relational or sexual violence in the
dating relationships. The results were mixed, but provided interesting points for future
work. On one hand, the one month post-test assessment revealed a significant decrease in
aggression towards partners as well as higher levels of knowledge and sensitivity and less
tolerance towards this type of violence. However, results relating to a decrease in violent
behaviour were not found in the follow-up one year later. More recently the authors have
carried out a follow-up several years later with the objective of finding out the long-term
effects of the programme, concluding that the decrease in dating violence was maintained
up to four years after the end of the programme (Foshee et al., 2004).
The Youth Relationships Project (Wolfe, Werkele, Scott, Straatman, Grasley, & Reitzel-
Jaffe, 2003) is also a community project whose results have also been promising. This
programme focussed on those young adolescents who were at particular risk, specifically
those who had a history of family abuse. The young people who took part in the
programme received group sessions aimed at improving their conflict resolution skills,
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
25
their emotional wellbeing and communication skills, as well as their knowledge about
abusive relationships and aimed at decreasing their tolerance towards these. In spite of the
fact that more than 160 young people took part in the programme, the experimental
design continuously assessed the efficacy of the intervention sessions. The results,
although not entirely conclusive, reported reductions in the rates of physical aggression
among the participants in this programme.
Within our research group we are developing an educational intervention programme for
young people aged 16-17 years, with the objective of reducing the high levels of
aggression and victimisation found in Spain. At this moment, the programme has been
carried out in one school in which there was random assignment of participants to two
control groups and two experimental groups, as well as a control group which was not
based at the school but who had the similar characteristics to the experimental group. The
intervention aimed to challenge adolescent views of love and romantic relationships, to
change sexist attitudes and to promote positive conflict resolution strategies as well as
how to live a healthy life. We designed 15 work sessions about different stages in the
development of a relationship; from initial dating, to the early stages of the relationship,
it’s consolidation and breaking up. In each of the blocks the participants worked on each
one of the areas of intervention mentioned earlier. The intervention was piloted in 2008
and the first experimental phase was concluded in May 2009. This was evaluated
quantitatively using a pre-test/post-test procedure which examined changes in violent
behaviour (physical, psychological and sexual), sexist attitudes, satisfaction with the
relationship and beliefs about love. The post-test was conducted one month after the
intervention and there will be a follow-up four months later. In addition, data was
collected in a variety of different ways throughout the intervention, using focus groups,
individual activities and group audiovisual tasks. The evaluation of the effectiveness of
the experimental programme is still underway, but the preliminary results appear to
indicate that there are significant changes in the experimental group in relation to the
control group in terms of their sexist beliefs and behaviours, and conflict resolution
strategies (Muñoz, Ortega-Rivera and Ortega, 2009).
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
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In spite of the fact that the results of the programmes mentioned above are positive and
promising, it remains to be seen whether these programmes will be able to reach those
who need them most. As we have mentioned, the dating violence programmes developed
have been focussed on primary prevention, and few have carried out systematic
interventions with at-risk populations. It is important to state that, until now, researchers
and theorists have paid little attention to the at-risk populations who are in most need of
these interventions.
All health and education professionals who work in this area know the importance of
participant motivation and desire to benefit from the programme on the success of any
programme. Whitaker et al. (2006) note that it is necessary that intervention programmes
keep in mind the population to whom they are aimed and analyse the ways in which
participants are selected if necessary. This is particularly important when the intervention
is secondary in nature and is fundamental in terms of appropriate use of resources, as well
as being more beneficial to those young people who take part in the intervention.
Following on from this, Cornellius, Sullivan, Wyngarden and Milliken (2009) conducted
a study with first year University students with the aim of finding out which variables
determined the adolescents’ intention to participate in dating violence intervention
programmes. The researchers analysed whether the predisposition to take part in these
programmes was determined by beliefs or knowledge about the phenomenon or by the
individual’s current or previous problems with dating violence and by the beliefs they
held about the benefits they may obtain from taking part in the programme. The variables
which best predicted the intention to take part in dating violence prevention programmes
were the belief that they were at risk of perpetrating or suffering these behaviours at some
point and the belief that they could benefit from the programme, although they knew that
the programme could make them aware of things about themselves that may make them
feel uncomfortable. In contrast to what was hypothesised, current involvement in dating
violence did not affect intention to take part, which does not support the idea that those
currently involved in dating violence may be more reticent about participating in these
programmes. Moreover, these studies emphasize that in order to promote adolescents’
intention and desire to participate in these programmes, prevention projects should
concentrate their efforts in designing good sensitization campaigns in which they analyse
Ortega, R. and Sánchez, V. (2010). Juvenile dating and violence. In I. Coyne and C. Monks
(Eds). Bullying in different contexts: commonalities, differences and the role of theory.
London: Cambridge University Press. DRAFT VERSION
27
the benefits of these types of interventions for young people lives instead of concentrating
on the consequences and seriousness of this phenomenon.
Conclusions:
In this chapter we have analyze the pervasive phenomenon of dating violence. Research
suggests that this problem is more frequent than expected and involved boys and girls in
the same proportion. Multidimensional and multiprobabilistic theoretical models are
contributing to the explanation of dating violence concluding that, other than family and
sociodemographic factors, proximal factors related to beliefs about violence, love, sexist
attitudes, behavioural problems, and coping styles increase the probability of involvement
in dating violence. The identification of these risk factors has recently facilitated the
design of prevention and intervention programs. At this respect, results seem to be mixed
but promising in reducing dating violence and indicate that, when sensitization campaigns
are directly focussed on positive benefits of the intervention, adolescents’ intention to
participate increase considerably.
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... La violencia en parejas adolescentes tiene ciertas características distintivas respecto de la violencia de pareja en adultos y la violencia de género, por lo que ha dado lugar a un ámbito de investigación propio (Ortega y Sánchez, 2011;Viejo, 2014). En la violencia de pareja en adolescentes se ha observado un elevado porcentaje de agresiones mutuas (Fernández-Fuertes y Fuertes, 2010), que probablemente estén relacionadas con la mayor inexperiencia de los adolescentes en las relaciones de pareja y con su falta de percepción de ciertas conductas como agresiones (Díaz-Aguado y Carvajal, 2011;Rodríguez et al., 2012;Viejo, 2014). ...
... Por otra parte, en la investigación sobre la violencia en parejas adolescentes es fundamental diferenciar entre violencia ocasional y violencia frecuente. Esta distinción es importante, puesto que se ha sugerido que la violencia ocasional y mutua en parejas adolescentes estaría más relacionada con su escasa experiencia previa, e incluso con ciertas prácticas torpes de cortejo (Ortega y Sánchez, 2011;Viejo, Monks, Sánchez y Ortega-Ruiz, 2015). Las situaciones de violencia frecuente, sin embargo, podrían estar relacionadas con mayores dificultades de ajuste psicosocial de los adolescentes en otros ámbitos, un aspecto que convendría analizar. ...
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... This normalisation could affect their couple quality and satisfaction, as shown in some studies that have found that adolescents involved in dating aggression feel that their current dating relationship is stable and serious [13], scoring high in intimacy and commitment but also exhibiting high levels of conflicts and imbalance of power [6,12]. Ortega-Ruiz and Sánchez-Jiménez [14] have hypothesised that this couple profile reflects a "dirty dating" dynamic, a passive acceptance of being part of a couple where violence and conflicts exist, probably sustained by a strong acceptance of myths of love [15], which could render it difficult to perceive violence and break up the relationship. ...
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