Accountability in Teenage Dating Violence: A Comparative Examination of Adult Domestic Violence and Juvenile Justice Systems Policies

Article excerpt

The adult criminal justice system's domestic violence policies hold perpetrators accountable for their violence, but the juvenile justice system rarely addresses teenage dating violence (Buel, 2003).With the emergence of domestic violence as a major social problem, institutions in society responded with policies and services designed for prevention of and intervention around this issue. Domestic violence policies and laws were enacted at the federal and state levels; services for victims and, later, perpetrators, were developed; and an explosion of research sought to explore, understand, and evaluate the issue of domestic violence and the subsequent responses. The expansive interest in intimate partner violence (IPV), although warranted, has remained largely focused on this issue with adult victims and perpetrators (Hickman, Jaycox, & Aronoff, 2004). Teenage dating violence is a significant yet often overlooked issue within youth culture and the broader society (Sanders, 2003).

Rates of adolescent dating violence vary across studies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducts one of the largest studies on risk behavior with the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. This system surveys a variety of risk behaviors in youths in grades 7 through 12 and includes questions about perpetration and victimization of physical and sexual violence. Data collected from 2007 indicate that 9.9 percent of youths identified as victims of physical adolescent dating violence during the previous 12 months (CDC, 2008). The prevalence was higher among boys (11 percent) than girls (8.8 percent).

Other single studies on adolescent dating violence have produced much higher rates of victimization and perpetration. Among teenagers in grades 6 through 12, 36 percent reported inflicting violence on their dates, whereas 34 percent reported having received violence in a dating relationship (Gray & Foshee, 1997). Molidar, Tolman, and Kober (2000) found that 36 percent of female adolescents and 37 percent of male adolescents experienced physical dating violence. A New York City sample of youths found that as many as 57 percent of girls experienced physical violence, with 38 percent of boys reporting being victimized (Watson, Cascardi, Avery-Leaf, & O'Leary, 2001). Rates of dating violence among adolescents are at least as high as they are for adult IPV (Bennett & Fineran, 1998), yet adolescent dating violence often goes unreported, with victims and perpetrators never being referred for services.

There may be many reasons why the issue of teenage dating violence has lagged behind adult domestic violence, and policy development may be one contributing factor. A comparative examination of juvenile justice and domestic violence policies reveals very different histories, philosophies, and trajectories of policy development. Domestic violence policies were largely enacted to address adult IPV within the criminal justice system, whereas the juvenile justice system was developed to protect youths from the harshness of the adult criminal justice system. The implication of policy disparity may be one contributing reason that teenage dating violence has received a different societal response than adult domestic violence. Teenage dating violence may be "falling through the cracks" between two policy approaches. This article examines and compares policies from the juvenile justice system and the domestic violence field. The difference between these two policy responses may contribute to how teenage dating violence becomes defined and, thus, determine the response.

POLICY DEVELOPMENT AND TRAJECTORY: JUVENILE JUSTICE

Important policy developments within the juvenile justice system include the establishment of juvenile courts, inclusion of due process protection for juveniles, the development of a rehabilitative treatment response to juvenile crime, and the eventual return to a more punitive approach to juvenile offenders. …