The Nature of the Problem

We provided a definition of intimate violence in the opening chapter. It is worth repeating here:

For adults, family or intimate violence may include acts that are physically and emotionally harmful or that carry the potential to cause physical harm. Abuse of adult partners may include sexual coercion or assaults, physical intimidation, threats to kill or harm, restraint of normal activities or freedom, and denial of access to resources. (King & Chalk, 1998, p. 19)

Dating Violence

When the first researchers to study intimate partner violence uncovered significantly higher rates of domestic violence compared to the rate of violence individuals experience outside of the home, they proposed that the “marriage license is a hitting license” (Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). But later, other researchers found that high rates of violence occurred in intimate relations outside of marriage (see, e.g., Sugarman & Hotaling, 1989). Scholars who examined nonmarital violence used the now “quaint” term “courtship violence” to describe violence and abuse that occurred outside of marriage. We do not hear the term “courtship” much anymore, and the violence that does occur is not tied to just the process of selecting a mate. Even the term we use now, “dating violence,” may be out of fashion and is too narrow. What we are concerned about is violence between individuals who are in intimate relationships prior to marriage. For now, “dating violence” is the best shorthand for this type of intimate violence and abuse.

A variety of small studies of secondary school and college students yields estimates of dating violence between 10% and 60% (Sugarman & Hotaling, 1989). The most recent and comprehensive examination of dating violence defined the behavior as “physical, sexual or psychological violence within a dating relationship” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2006). The CDC conducts the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The YRBS focuses on high school- aged youth. For the year 2003, the survey revealed that fewer than 9% of females (8.8%) had reported violent victimization at the hands of a dating partner in the previous 12 months.6 The 9% prevalence is probably a lower boundary number since the subjects were not asked whether or not they actually dated in the prior year. Thus, some of the “no” responses were due to not being in a dating relationship. Foreshadowing what we will see in the next section, the rate of dating violence was highest among black students (14% for females) and lower for whites (7.5% for females).

The rate of dating violence among college students is higher than for high school students. Within the United States, estimates of dating violence among college students range from 10-50% (Kaukinen, 2014). Murray Straus (2004) analyzed data gathered on 31 college campuses in 16 countries and reported that 29% of students had assaulted a dating partner in the previous 12 months.7 The prevalence ranged from 17-45%. The highest prevalence was at a university in Louisiana, while the lowest was at a university in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In terms of severe violence—violence that has a high probably of causing an injury—the rates were also high. The median prevalence of severe violence was 9%, with a range from a low of 4% to as high as 20%. In terms of violence that inflicted an injury, the rates were also high, with a range from 1.5-20%. No university had a rate of injury-producing violence that was zero, and the median was 2%.

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