The News Story – 1 in 10 young people have perpetrated sexual violence

According to a new national study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, sexual violence among young people runs even more disturbingly high than experts had previously realized.  A USA Today story reveals that “[n]early one in 10 young people report being a perpetrator of sexual violence — either coercing or forcing some type of sexual contact upon another. . . ”

The young people in the sample were aged 14 to 21, and they admitted to behaviors ranging from forced kissing, to having sex when they knew the other person didn’t want it, to attempted or actual rape.  In addition, “9.4% say they’ve been ‘hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend during the 12 months before the survey.’”

The study notes a connection between this problem behavior and watching violent, X-rated fims—“17% of the perpetrators had looked at violent or X-rated material in the past year, compared with 3% of the non-perpetrators.”  Given other research linking teen abusive behavior and sexual activity, however, we might wonder if such studies should instead be considering the deeper question of the proper bounds of sexual activity.

The New Research – teen sex and dating violence

Given the near-complete breakdown of marital and sexual norms, it should not be surprising that “hooking-up,” “friends with benefits,” and “date rape” have replaced “courting,” “going steady,” and “getting pinned” among the younger set.  Nor is it surprising that “dating violence” has emerged in the lexicon not only of empirical studies but also bills before state legislatures.  Feminists may mischaracterize the nature of domestic violence and overstate its prevalence, yet empirical studies (and crime statistics) consistently reveal insights that generally aren’t trumpeted on the pages of the New York Times, like the fact that the vast majority of cases of domestic and intimate violence do not occur in intact marriages or in married-parent families and are far more likely to occur between same-sex lovers than between men and women.

Likewise, a study of physical violence in teen dating by sociologists at Bowling Green University identifies sexual intimacy as a key aspect of teen romances that involve four reported behaviors: “throwing something at”; “pushed, shoved, or grabbed”; “slapped in the face or head”; and “hit.”  Using data from the Toledo Adolescent Relationship Study, the researchers focus on 956 seventh, ninth, and eleventh graders who were enrolled in seven public school districts during the year 2000 in Lucas County, Ohio—and who reported they were currently dating or had dated in the previous year.  Contrary to feminist expectations, a higher percentage of girls (19 percent) than boys (15 percent) reported being the perpetrator of at least one of these forms of violence.

As might be expected, all of the dynamics of dating relationships that the researchers classify as “problematic” were found to be significant predictors (at the p<.001 level) of violence perpetration in both bivariate and multivariate statistical models, including verbal conflict, jealously, and cheating.  In other words, the more a teen reported these dynamics in a dating relationship, the more likely they were to report violence perpetration.  The Bowling Green team did not include sexual intercourse with a dating partner among the problematic features—choosing instead to group this element of dating relationships with the category “patterns of interaction and influence”—but perhaps they should have, as the oldest respondents were no more than 17 years of age.  Indeed, sex among dating teens not only correlated with greater odds of violence perpetration (p<.001 in both models, including the one controlled for demographic and other variables also associated with dating violence) but also yielded the strongest association in the bivariate model (and the second strongest association in the multivariate model) among the relationship features the researchers measured.

These findings do not mean that every teen romance in which a couple goes “all the way” will turn violent.  But the study does make the case that teen dating violence does not occur apart from a relationship that involves illicit sexual relations.  Parents and youth workers concerned about the dating scene ought to therefore think about how a recovery of the discipline of chastity (or the confinement of sexual relations to the marriage bed) might contribute to healthier and safer relationships among teenage boys and girls.

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson, “New Research,” The Family in America, Winter 2011, Vol. 25 Number 1. Study: Peggy C. Giordano et al., “The Characteristics of Romantic Relationships Associated with Teen Dating Violence,”Social Science Research 39.6 [November 2010]: 863–74.)

This article has been republished with permission from The Family in America, a publication of The Howard Center. The Howard Center is a MercatorNet partner site.

Nicole M. King is the Managing Editor of The Howard Center’s quarterly journal, The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy, the United States’ leading journal of family-policy research....