Adolescent victims of physical dating violence: Why do they stay in abusive relationships?

Muňoz-Rivas, Ronzón-Tirado, Redondo, N., & Cassinello, M.D.Z. (2021).
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1 – 20.
Type of Profession:

The objective of this study was to understand the stay/leave decisions of adolescent victims of physical dating violence.

Expanded Abstract: 

Physical violence in dating relationships is a widely recognized health problem that has led to a significant number of scientific studies. These studies have been aimed at the analysis of this violence and its prevention (De La Rue et al., 2017; Edwards & Hinsz, 2014; Levesque et al., 2016; Negash et al., 2016; Sánchez-Jiménez et al., 2018; Vivolo-Kantor et al., 2019).

Current studies indicate that although young people are more aware than they were 10 years ago of the problem of dating violence and they do tend to dissolve their abusive relationships (McLeod et al., 2015; Negash et al., 2016; Taylor et al., 2013), many other adolescents continue to maintain them, giving way to long-term relationships in which the attacks persist and increase in frequency and severity (Ybarra et al., 2016). In these cases, it has been proven that the negative consequences for the health of the victims increases, as does the probability of these violent patterns to remain in later relationships during adult life (Foshee & Reyes, 2011; McNaughton et al., 2019; Orpinas et al., 2017; Young & Furman, 2013).

According to recent international studies, 80% of the adolescent and young adult victims of physical dating violence plan to remain in their abusive relationships; many of them even intend to marry their current partner (Copp et al., 2015; Edwards et al., 2012; Katz et al., 2012; Soller et al., 2020). Additionally, studies find that two of the main factors associated with the stay/leave decision in a violent relationship are (a) the general satisfaction of the victims regarding the quality of the relationship, (b) the commitment the victim has established toward the relationship despite being a victim of different types of aggression, and (c) greater feelings of investment toward the relationship, e.g. the duration of the relationship (Edwards and Hinsz, 2014, Edwards et al., 2018; Helm et al., 2017; Toplu-Demirtaş et al., 2013).

All participants in this study were victims of physical aggression: 62.5% of the adolescents valued their relationship as stable or serious and had some contact with their partner at least three times a week. The median duration of the dating relationships was 6 months (M = 9.29, SD = 10.59). The descriptive analyses of the victimization measures revealed that that majority of the participants had been exposed mostly to mild aggressive behavior such as being punched or held tightly by their partner (72.5%), being kicked or bitten (31.1%), or having been hit with the fist or slapped (24.4%). By contrast, more serious aggression was less frequent, such as being beaten (2.2%), being strangled (2%), or being attacked with a knife or weapon (1.1%).

Despite being victims of physical aggression, more than 80.6% of the adolescents rated their relationship as highly satisfactory, and 79.8% expressed their intention to stay in the abusive relationship. Only 2.2% of the participants had tried to end the relationship, and the vast majority tended to justify the assaults by considering them as part of a game or joke (65.3%). Study researchers suggest that future preventive strategies must incorporate actions to help the youngest to evaluate in a more objective way, the real quality of their first relationships, and aim to modify the justification of the aggression, the recognition of the potential harm, and to foster an adequate balance between the benefits and harm of staying in the abusive relationship.