One in three adolescents in the United States is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner, according to Loveisrespect.org. Now, with the evolution of the Internet age, dating abuse has taken on a new form through controlling text messages and abusive e-mails that have detrimental health outcomes in female teens, according to a recent study.
Findings published online in the journal BMC Public Health show that victims of physical and sexual abuse as well as non-physical abuse are at higher risk for smoking, eating disorders, depression, and risky sexual behavior. Researchers surveyed 585 college students about their dating experiences and health histories to observe how physical and non-physical abuse in the digital era impact the health of teens later in life.
Females who were physically or sexually abused by a dating partner when they were between the ages of 13 and 19 were approximately four times more likely to smoke and develop eating disorders compared to non-abused females. This group was also had an increased risk for depression and risky sexual behavior.
Females who were victims of non-physical abuse when they were between the ages of 13 and 19 were nearly as likely to take up smoking. Non-physical abuse female victims were also much more likely to suffer depression and eating disorders, and engage in risky sexual behavior.
In the study, there were no health differences between males who experienced physical and sexual dating violence during the ages of 13 to 19 and those who did not. Males who did experience non-physical dating abuse, however, were much more likely to smoke and develop particular eating disorders in their lifetime.
"Often an argument in society is that abuse that is not physical or sexual really doesn't matter," said Amy Bonomi, lead researcher of the study and professor in Michigan State University's Department of Human Development and Family Studies. "Is it really harmful, for example, if I call my partner a bad name? Or if I'm harassing or stalking them with text messages? Well, we've shown that it does have a negative effect on health."
Loverespect.org reports that there is a lack of awareness on teens who are in violent relationships, with only 33 percent of these teens reporting the abuse. Confusion about the law and the desire for confidentiality are considered to be two of the most significant factors that stop young dating abuse victims from seeking help in their situations. "One of the things that we need to do better at society is to have conversations very early with young people—both females and males—about healthy relationship strategies," said Bonomi.
To learn how you or someone you know can seek help for dating abuse, visit Stoprelationshipabuse.org.