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    Dating Violence: Prevalence, Context and Risk Markers

    Excerpted from
    Violence in Dating Relationships: Emerging Social Issues
    By Maureen Pirog-Good, Jan E. Stets

    David H. Sugarman and Gerald T. Hotaling

    Less than a decade ago, Makepeace reported that a substantial proportion of college students engaged in violence in their dating relationships. This seemed to contradict the contentions of some who believed that dating was a time of innocent exploration and that intimate violence was more a feature among conflict-ridden married couples . However, it confirmed the expectations of others. In a historical analysis of marital violence. May cited Mayhew's observations of London street life, which depicted severe beating as being accepted by women as consonant with their role not only in marital relationships but during courtship as well. More recently, Dobash and Dobash's analysis of the relationship between battered women and patriarchy offered cursory evidence that violence was also present in dating relationships. After witnessing the revelations of high rates of child and wife battering and after beginning to understand the prevalence of sexual child abuse, sibling violence and elder abuse, the high reported rates of dating violence did not evoke a great deal of surprise in the research community.

    Within this context, it was also easy for researchers to directly link dating violence to family violence. Dating violence was discovered and seen as one more example of how violence can permeate intimate and close relationships. This perception of dating violence as closely aligned, if not identical, to violence in the family takes many forms and has largely structured what we currently know about violence between dating partners. For example, Makepeace saw dating violence as a mediating stage between the experiencing of violence in one's family of origin and in one's family of procreation, a training ground hypothesis. Others have employed the marital violence literature as a framework for investigating dating violence. DcMaris and Thompson conceptualized dating violence theoretically in terms of the factors associated with marital violence. With regard to method, the vast majority of the researchers have employed some form or modification of the Conflict Tactics Scale, a widely used assessment tool for domestic violence. With regard to therapy, Flynn argues that marital violence counselors should expand their clientele to include violent dating partners and conclude that dating violence and marital violence are "forms of the same phenomenon". Essentially, violence is violence regardless of who is doing it to whom.

    If one accepts the argument of dating-marital violence equivalence, does this imply that dating is like marriage? Laner and Thompson offer a number of common characteristics of both marital and serious dating relationships in contrast to other dyads: (1) a greater degree of mutual interaction in terms of time spent together, range of activities in which they are engaged, and higher levels of involvement; (2) a greater exchange of personal information; (3) a greater presumed right to influence the partner; and (4) a greater likelihood of conflict due to the need to negotiate roles and responsibilities and to cope with environmental stressors. However, Carlson correctly points out that certain differences emerge as well. Married couples often have children, whereas dating couples typically do not. In marriage in contrast to dating, the couple arc economically bound to each other, usually with the woman dependent on her spouse.

    While these arguments are intriguing, empirical evidence is rarely used to support the notion of equivalence in dating and marital violence. In order to more clearly understand the relationship between dating and marital violence, we review empirical work on dating violence, and then compare these findings with what we know about marital violence. This chapter, which reviews over 40 published and unpublished studies of dating violence, addresses three major issues: prevalence, contextual factors, and risk markers. The first issue focuses on the amount of dating violence that research has uncovered and the second examines the meanings people attach to violence in dating. The third issue concentrates on the factors that place an individual at risk of sustaining or inflicting violence in a dating relationship. In summary, this chapter reviews what we currently know about the amount and correlates of dating violence and compares these conclusions with those of a similar analysis of marital violence.

    The Definition Of Dating Violence

    One problem that plagues the study of interpersonal violence is how to define it. For the present purposes, violence is defined as the use or threat of physical force or restraint carried out with the intent of causing pain or injury to another. Three points should be raised about this definition. First, psychological abuse is excluded. Although psychological strategies are the primary means of controlling another person, little work has focused on operationalizing this construct within the dating context. Second, while sexual aggression is a form of physical violence and has an extensive research literature, it is reviewed by Lundberg-Love and Geffner (this volume, Chapter 9). Consequently, sexual aggression is not included in this chapter. Third, our definition emphasizes acts of physical aggression in contrast to the injuries that may result from these acts. Interestingly, only Makepeace focused on injuries sustained during acts of dating violence.

    Researchers of dating violence have utilized a number of definitions. Puig, for example, considered courtship partner abuse to be "acts of physical aggression directed at one dating partner by another dating partner". Carlson defined dating violence as "violence in unmarried couples who are romantically involved", while Thompson conceived of courtship violence as "any acts and/or threat of acts that physically and/or verbally abuse another person" and that occur during "any social interaction related to the dating and/or mate selection process".

    One of the difficulties with these definitions is that the terms "dating" and "courtship" are not adequately defined and seem to apply to a broad range of persons and social activities. For our purposes, the process of dating is seen as a dyadic interaction that focuses on participation in mutually rewarding activities that may increase the likelihood of future interaction, emotional commitment, and/or sexual intimacy. Consequently, dating violence involves the perpetration or threat of an act of physical violence by at least one member of an unmarried dyad on the other within the context of the dating process. Our definition of dating violence (1) excludes married individuals and divorced couples who are not attempting to reconcile their relationships; (2) incorporates a range of relationships from the first dates to cohabitation and engagement; and (3) can apply to homosexual as well as to heterosexual relationships.

    The Prevalence of Dating Violence

    Even though research in this area is relatively new, there are over 20 data sets that have resulted from attempts to estimate the prevalence of dating violence. A majority of these studies have counted cases in terms of lifetime prevalence. allowing for an estimation of the proportion of respondents who had ever inflicted or sustained physical violence in a dating relationship.

    Meaningful comparisons across data sets, however, are not always easy to make because of variations in sampling, research design, and analysis decisions. These problems are complicated further by the various operationalizations of dating violence. For example, some authors include in their counts only acts of physical force as measures of violent behavior, some include threats of violence, and some include other forms of verbal aggression as well. All in all, the comparison of prevalence estimates across studies must proceed with

    caution in order to avoid a series of misleading comparisons. Tables 1.1 and 1.2 summarize several of the methodological features of these studies as well as the overall prevalence rates and rates broken down by the gender and role of the respondent (victim or offender) in the violent interaction.

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