Violence in Dating Relationships

Article excerpt

Violence in Dating Relationships. Emerging Social Issues. Maureen A. Pirog-Good and Jan E. Stets (Editors). New York: Praeger, 1989. 291 pp. (paperback).

Pirog-Good and Stets have edited a volume which brings together a collection of papers on violence and sexual aggression in dating and other casual male-female relationships. It is an excellent source book on these topics and provides a welcome addition to the literature.

The book is divided into two separate sections, one on physical violence and the other on sexual violence. Each section has some contributions that review the literature and others that report on specific empirical studies. Several of the literature reviews include references to previously unpublished research studies, which adds a richness of detail to these two newly emerging areas of research. Some of the articles are reprints of works published elsewhere. Although the quality is uneven, the book will provide an invaluable asset to the researcher of courtship violence and/or sexual aggression and to others who want an overview of the major issues in these fields.

The section on "Physical abuse in dating relationships" begins with an excellent critical review of the empirical literature on dating violence by Sugarman and Hotaling. As they point out, our knowledge is still limited. The studies that have already been done yield conflicting data. Even basic issues, such as the incidence rates for dating violence, are not resolved. Percentages of those who have experienced violence (as an assailant or as a recipient) range from less than 10% to almost 70%. Regional variation is postulated as one explanation but there must be many others. For example, Sugarman and Hotaling note that more recent studies tend to report higher rates of dating violence. This raises interesting questions about whether the phenomenon is increasing or if more people now recognize and label this behavior as a form of violence. There are complex issues that have been identified in terms of labeling and reporting of violence in marriage (e.g., Kelly, 1988), a much more recognized event than violence in courtship. In concluding their chapter, Sugarman and Hotaling criticize the work that they have reviewed for a number of methodological shortcomings. Some studies combine married and unmarried populations. There are also major discrepancies across studies in how violence is defined. Sugarman and Hotaling also suggest that much of the theory that guides research on dating violence comes from work on marital violence, with the assumption that dating violence will eventually lead to violent marriages. But they argue that there is little if any evidence for such a relationship with the data now available. These points suggest that we need better theory to help us understand the dynamics of courtship violence. The Sugarman and Hotaling chapter provides a very good introduction to the book and provides a context for the placement of the later empirically based chapters in the book.

Perhaps in response to the need expressed by Sugarman and Hotaling, Riggs and O'Leary's chapter presents a theoretical model for the causes of courtship aggression. Contextual variables, such as the socialization of the aggressor and his or her personality, are proposed as causes, along with situational variables, including the level of communication in the couple, the satisfaction with the relationship, and stress. Both types of factors are included in the theoretical models proposed in this chapter. Although clearly an important step, the proposed models have not been tested empirically, although they are partially derived from research findings. And, although the models are quite complex and include many constructs, they do not include important theoretical variables such as how the violence changes over time and how it is reacted to by each of the partners.

Both of these theoretical chapters are complemented by the subsequent empirically based chapters. …