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A Look at Young Men Who Commit Dating Violence

Oct 29, 2008

A new study of young men, age 17 to 21, who commit intimate partner violence finds that more than half faced challenges early in their lives, such as growing up with troubled families, having little or no support when they began to fail at school, and witnessing violence in their homes and communities.

That is a key conclusion of “Social and Environmental Contexts of Adolescent and Young Adult Male Perpetrators of Intimate Partner Violence: A Qualitative Study,” published in the September issue of the American Journal of Men’s Health.

“Until now, we did not have much information on young men who hurt their partners,” said the study’s senior author, Elizabeth Miller, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Davis Children’s Hospital. “This is a critically important piece of the puzzle in terms of designing meaningful prevention and intervention programs to prevent adolescent relationship violence.”

“We need to conduct research that considers aspects of environments – such as family life, school, peer environment and communities – that might promote such behaviors among boys,” said the study’s lead author, Elizabeth Reed, ScD. “Perpetration of violence in dating relationships occurs among certain groups of boys more than others. We need to look beyond individuals to see how environments play a role in this important public health problem, and address the issue in a way that considers factors much larger than individual choices and behaviors.”

For the study, researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with 19 young males, most from Boston urban neighborhoods, who were enrolled in programs addressing perpetration of intimate partner violence.

Miller and Reed note that the study is among an urban sample of boys in programs for dating violence perpetration and, therefore, does not represent all boys who perpetrate abusive behaviors towards girlfriends. However, it offers some important, initial insight into the potential factors across the life contexts of these boys that may contribute to dating violence. Their findings suggest that programs in place to address this issue may need to consider the impact of various contexts in these boys’ lives.

It appears online in the September issue of the American Journal of Men’s Health. It is the first qualitative study to document the social and environmental factors experienced by adolescent males who have abused dating partners.

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