A new nationwide survey for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Blue Shield of California released its findings last week, suggesting that even middle school students can become victims of psychological and physical dating violence.
The report, titled "Starting Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships," found that abusive relationships can begin as early as grade seven, with more than 30 per cent of 1,430 middle school students reporting being called humiliating names, being told that they are worth nothing, or forced by a partner not to spend time with other people. A total of eight U.S. middle schools were surveyed nationwide, four of them with Start Strong programs and four without.
During the survey it was revealed that 75 per cent of 12-year-old students were already in a relationship. According to their questionnaires, one in every six kids has gone through physical dating abuse in the past 6 months; one in three middle school kids have witnessed dating violence among their friends sometime in the past; and 37 per cent of students between 11 and 14 years of age reported being sexually harassed or psychologically abused by a boyfriend or a girlfriend.
Reported violence included sexual abuse, slapping, kicking, pushing, as well as emotional abuse such as controlling a partner, regardless of gender, by not allowing her/him to do something. The sampling of teenagers who took part in the survey was diverse, with 30 per cent of kids being white, 34 per cent African-American, and 12 per cent Latino and other races. The experts also made sure that both male and female participants were equally represented in the study: 50 per cent of the surveyors were boys and 50 per cent girls.
The investigation also revealed that:
49 per cent of teens said they had been sexually assaulted, either physically or verbally. Assault included inappropriate touching or being joked about.
7 per cent strongly agreed that there was nothing wrong for a boy to slap his girlfriend in case she made him jealous on purpose, and 50 per cent strongly agreed that it was OK if a girl slapped her partner under the same circumstances.
31 per cent of the students reported experiencing some sort of "electronic aggression," such as receiving provocative or inappropriate text messages.
63 per cent of the middle school kids agreed with what the researchers called a "harmful stereotype" about gender, such as girls are often bossing around and make boys do what they want, or when it comes to boyfriends and girlfriends, boys should be smarter than girls.
The findings are really very alarming, but the experts did find some encouraging data as well. The good news is that almost 75 per cent of all kids surveyed said that they talk to their parents about dating experience and share their concerns about violence in their relationships. However, this kind of openness in a child-parent communication becomes less frequent as teenagers finish middle school and go to high school, exactly when the risk of violent relationships increases. That is why researchers suggest that parents should start talking to their kids about problematic issues while they are very young, while the kids still have their attention.
Start Strong is a nationwide program that operates in eleven U.S. communities, including Oakland, and provides educational support for young children and their families in order to help them cope with psychological and physical violence in relationships.