Violence Common Among Youth

Three studies released in July find high rates of dating, sexual and other forms of violence among youth in the United States. The researchers who conducted the studies all recommend more education, detection and interventions that begin early in life.

College Age Students Experience High Rates of Violence

Many college students have experienced physical, emotional or sexual violence, often before college, a study published in the July 2008 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine finds. Emotional violence is most frequent before college; sexual and emotional violence are equally common during college. Women report being victims of violence more often than men, but male victimization is common, it finds. More than half the violence that students experience during college is partner-related.

The study is based on a survey of 910 students in 67 classes at three diverse urban colleges. It finds that almost half of college undergraduates have experienced some form of relationship violence in their lives, as a victim, a perpetrator or both. Forty-two percent report being a victim – 53 percent of women and 27 percent of men. The rate of victimization increases around age 13, when dating often begins, rises sharply between ages 15 and 17, and continues to rise between ages 18 and 22.

Fifteen percent of women report being victims of sexual violence. Men report committing more sexual violence than women, and women report committing more physical violence than men. Authors say it is unclear if the higher rate of reported female perpetration of physical violence is women initiating violence within relationships, female on female violence within same-gender relationships, self-defense, or retaliation for past abuse. They note that women typically inflict fewer injuries than men, so they may be more willing to report perpetration because they have less fear of punishment or stigma.

In this study, physical violence is defined as pushing, grabbing, hitting, choking or slapping; emotional violence as being made to feel bad about oneself or isolated from family and friends or having a partner act in a possessive manner; and sexual violence as being coerced, pressured or forced into having sexual contact.

Authors recommend that counseling and education focusing on healthy relationships begin during childhood. “Relationship Violence Among Female and Male College Undergraduate Students” is based on a survey of college students age 17 to 22 at a nonresidential community college, a mid-size Catholic university, and a large Ivy League university.

Teen Dating Violence

A second study examines serious dating violence, finding that 2.7 percent of 12- to 17-year-old girls and 0.6 percent of boys report being physically or sexually assaulted by a date or partner. That correlates to 335,000 girls and 78,000 boys in the United States as victims.

The research team from the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston defined serious dating violence stringently in this study. Physical assault, for instance, includes only cases in which the victim is badly injured, beaten up, or threatened with a weapon. They did not look at less serious physical abuse, or verbal or emotional abuse, in teen dating relationships.

The study is based on a survey of 3,614 families in which the parent and adolescent were interviewed separately by phone. The authors note that the rates of serious dating violence would have been considerably higher if they had excluded from the study 12- and 13-year-olds, and youth who have not yet had dating relationships.

It finds that sexual assault is the most common form of serious dating violence for this age group, followed by physical assault. Risk factors for serious dating violence include being an older teen, female, and having past experience with traumatic events; in fact, it finds a strong association between having experienced a previous traumatic event and becoming a victim of serious dating violence.

Victims of serious dating violence are much more likely than teens who are not victims to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive episodes. “Severe dating violence does occur in the adolescent population and this phenomenon has a negative impact on the mental health of those individuals who are experiencing dating violence,” the authors write.

“Prevalence and Correlates of Dating Violence in a National Sample of Adolescents” is published in the July issue of the Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

New York City Teens Report High Rates of Sexual Violence

One in six New York City high school students (16 percent) report experiencing sexual violence at some point in their lives – a higher percentage than the national average. That is the major finding from a three-year research project on sexual and dating violence among New York City high school students, conducted by the Columbia University Center for Youth Violence Prevention and the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault.

Just two in five students who self-identified as having experienced physical or dating violence (41 percent) told someone about it, and 71 percent of those who confided in someone told a friend first. Only 13 percent first told a parent about the violence, and just one in four sought help from a health professional, teacher or guidance counselor.
Nearly ten percent of students who report having a dating partner in the past year say their partner touched them sexually when they didn’t want to be touched, and seven percent say they were forced to have sex against their will.
“These are alarming statistics any way you look at them, and we are hopeful that these findings will highlight an issue that has been kept in the shadows for far too long, and encourage more young people to seek help when they are victimized,” said Harriet Lessel, Executive Director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault.

“These data highlight the need for early identification, treatment, as well as prevention,” added Dr. Vaughn Rickert, Professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. “Unfortunately, funding for relationship violence among youth is not a priority. Funds need to be made available at the city, state and federal levels in order to promote sound intervention and prevention strategies for youth.”

1,454 high school students, age 13 to 21, from one Brooklyn and three Manhattan high schools participated in the study. The New York City Department of Education granted researchers permission to enroll high school students anonymously with their parents’ consent and their own permission, with the agreement of school principles and district superintendents.

To read a summary of the research, visit

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