Dating Violence

Dating violence is the use of threats and physical attacks by one partner in a courtship against the other. Dating violence may be used by men against women or by women against men. Dating violence also occurs in homosexual relationships. The prevalence of dating violence relates to a number of variables, which clinicians and counselors have studied in their efforts effectively alleviate it and its effects on victims.

In dating -- sometimes called courtships or just relationships -- couples traditionally engage in monogamous committed relationships as a source of mutual emotional fulfillment. These relationships are typically characterized by the absence of marriage or cohabitation. This lends a casual dimension to the relationship by allowing either or both partners to dissolve the relationship on grounds such as incompatibility or the loss of emotional connection. Dating is theoretically built on a sense of intimacy and mutual respect, yet it can contain elements of physical and psychological abuse.

It is important to make a distinction between dating violence and marital violence. Their physical and psychological outcomes are similar, but their origins are very different. In initial studies researchers hypothesized that the occurrence of violence in courtships reflected their similarity to marriages. These studies showed that marital violence resulted from stresses related to financial problems and to the maintaining of a home as well as bringing up children. Dating violence, by contrast, results from conflicts related to the relationship and the roles and expectations of each partner.

The majority of studies on dating violence have centered on American high school students and college-aged men and women. As many as 65 percent of those studied in the late 1980s and 1990s indicated that their relationships had included instances of unwanted aggressive physical contact. Other studies have yielded a prevalence of relationship violence at around 10 per cent. Experts indicate that such large inconsistencies suggest the unwillingness of victims to come forward in certain cases.

Dating violence spans a range of ill-willed physical behavior or threats. This commonly includes such actions as slapping and punching. Other actions include forced restraint, or pinning, and pushing. More extreme examples include violence of an unwanted sexual nature. Researchers assert that such violent behaviors result from one partner's desire to control the other and may be exacerbated by outside circumstances surrounding the relationship. Studies also suggest that violent actions are frequently elicited by jealousy on the part of one partner or as a response exacerbated by the effects of drugs or alcohol.

In addition to physical aggression and threats, stalking has been cited by researchers as an abusive, intimidating tactic that can occur in dating relationships. Stalking is defined as the obsessive tracking and following of one person by another. Stalking typically characterizes one partner's pursuit of the other after the relationship has ended. Partners may stalk one another in dating relationships out of a drive for control or latent sense of distrust or insecurity.

The tendency toward violence in dating relationships frequently originates in how one or both partners in a relationship view aggressive physical contact and threats as suitable behavior in the relationship. Anonymous studies of men and women have found that a fair percentage of both feel that the use of physical force is justified. Some even indicated that they felt it could potentially benefit the relationship.

Threats and physical responses to conflicts in dating relationships depend heavily on personality and early environment. In other words, people who have witnessed adults interacting violently with one another or have experienced abuse themselves as children are more likely to resort to physical force in their own relationships. Studies indicate that violence on the part of women in a relationship is not generally perceived to be as damaging as that committed by men. Of the sparse studies of violence with gay and lesbian couples, as high as 45 percent of men and 52 percent of women indicate that they have been the victims of physical aggression or threats in their own relationships.

Experts have theorized that the role of violence differs for both men and women. While men display violence in order to exert some manner of control, women behave violently in response to emotional frustration. Whether violence is perpetrated by a man or a woman, the psychological repercussions affect both victims and their relationships. The private nature of dating violence makes it incumbent on couples to proactively seek assistance if they wish to stop it and foster greater safety and trust within the relationship.

Dating Violence: Selected full-text books and articles

Violence in Dating Relationships: Emerging Social Issues
Maureen A. Pirog-Good; Jan E. Stets.
Praeger, 1989
It's My Life Now: Starting over after an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence
Meg Kennedy Dugan; Roger R. Hock.
Routledge, 2000
The Psychology of Sexual Victimization: A Handbook
Michele Antoinette Paludi.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Physical Violence in Dating Relationships"
The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication
William R. Cupach; Brian H. Spitzberg.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "Physical and Psychological Abuse"
The Handbook of Sexuality in Close Relationships
John H. Harvey; Amy Wenzel; Susan Sprecher.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "Sexual Aggression in Romantic Relationships"
The Dark Side of Close Relationships
Brian H. Spitzberg; William R. Cupach.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Sexual Coercion in Courtship Relations"
Sexuality in Close Relationships
Kathleen McKinney; Susan Sprecher.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Sexual Violence and Coercion in Courtship Relationships"
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