Dating Violence among College Students: Key Issues for College Counselors

Article excerpt

The authors present a review of literature examining dating violence among college students. They describe 6 key issues related to dating violence among college students that affect college counselors' work. These key issues relate to the incidence and prevalence of physical, sexual, and psychological violence in college students' dating relationships, risk factors and relationship dynamics associated with dating violence, and counseling issues--including related psychological symptoms and college students' reporting of dating violence to professionals.

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College counselors face many challenges when working with college students who have experienced dating violence in the past or are currently experiencing it. These challenges include using appropriate assessment strategies, helping clients examine the consequences of the violence, and treating comorbid presenting problems. Based on a review of the literature examining college student dating violence, key issues are highlighted for college counselors to consider when they work with students whose lives have been touched by dating violence. We begin by presenting definitions of dating violence. We then describe six key issues and their implications for college counselors. The final section identifies future directions for research and practice.

Definitions of dating and dating violence vary within the existing research. Therefore, we begin by clarifying our definitions of these terms. We define dating as a relationship in which two individuals share an emotional, romantic, and/or sexual connection beyond a friendship, but they are not married, engaged, or in a similarly committed relationship (i.e., have not participated in a lifelong commitment ceremony). This definition is inclusive of heterosexual and same-sex dating couples, although the majority of research described in the literature was conducted with heterosexual couples. Like Lewis and Fremouw (2000), we have adopted Sugarman and Hotaling's (1989) definition of dating violence and dating abuse as "the use or threat of physical force or restraint carried out with the intent of causing pain or injury to another" (p. 5) within a dating relationship. We also include sexual (Carr & VanDeusen, 2002) and psychological abuse (Carr & VanDeusen, 2002; Charkow & Nelson, 2000) as components of dating violence. Examples of sexual abuse in violent dating relationships include forced or coerced sexual activity (Aosved & Long, 2005), and examples of psychological abuse include dominating behaviors, verbal denigration, and social isolation (Murphy & Hoover, 1999). Physical, sexual, and psychological violence often co-occur in abusive dating relationships (Lewis, Travea, & Fremouw, 2002). We consider a dating relationship to be violent if one or more forms of violence are present. We use the terms dating violence and dating abuse interchangeably throughout this article.

Key Issues for College Counselors

We reviewed over 60 articles pertaining to dating violence among college students and identified major themes relevant to college counseling. We present six key issues intended to inform the practice of college counseling with students affected by dating violence. Because of space limitations, we cite only the most relevant articles in this section. The complete list of articles reviewed for this study is available from the first author.

Key issue 1: Physical and sexual dating violence are common on college campuses. Perhaps reflecting the assorted definitions used by researchers, estimates about the rates of physical and sexual dating violence vary widely. One of the earliest studies on college student dating violence (Makepeace, 1981) showed that approximately 20% of college students had experienced at least one incident of physical dating violence. Since that time, rates of physical dating violence among college students have ranged from 16. …