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Adolescents seek out emergency care for dating violence

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One in six males and females age 14 to 20 suffer physical dating violence

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Dating violence is controlling, abusive, and aggressive behavior in a romantic relationship. It can happen in straight or gay relationships. It can include verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, or a combination.

In this new study Dr. Vijay Singh, MD, MPH, MS, Clinical Lecturer in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Family Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor and senior author along with colleagues set out to determine and associate dating violence, dating victimization, and dating aggression among male and female patients aged 14 to 20 years seeking emergency department (ED) care.

This study included 4,089 males and females aged 14 to 20 years with an average age of 17.5 years who were seeking care in a suburban emergency department for dating violence between September 2010 and March 2013. Participants completed a computerized, self-administered, cross-sectional survey of demographics, dating violence from physical abuse measures of the Conflict in Adolescent Dating Relationships Inventory, associated behaviors, and ED health service use. Separate analyses were conducted for male and female patients.

The results revealed almost one in five female patients (18.4%) and one in eight male patients (12.5%) had reported past dating violence. Among female patients 10.6% reported dating victimization and 14.6% dating aggression. Among male patients 11.7% reported dating victimization and 4.9% reported dating aggression.

Multivariate analyses showed that variables associated with any male dating violence were African American race, alcohol misuse, illicit drug use, depression and any past year emergency department visit for intentional injury.

Females reporting prior dating violence were also more likely to be on public assistance, to have grades of D or below and to have visited the emergency department in the prior year for an intentional injury.

According to Dr. Singh "An enormous number of youth and adolescents have already experienced violence in their dating lives.” "Patterns that begin in adolescence can carry over to adulthood. Screening and intervention among youth with a history of dating violence can be critical to reducing future adult intimate partner violence."

In closing Dr. Singh commented "With this many youth and adolescents experiencing either dating victimization or dating aggression, it's dangerously easy for the behavior to become 'normalized,'" said Dr. Singh. "Simply treating the injury and not assessing for dating violence loses an opportunity for injury prevention and breaking the cycle of violence. Because African-American youth experienced greater odds of dating violence than their Caucasian peers, culturally tailored interventions will be essential."

This study is published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine

Teens and young adults experience the same types of abuse in relationships as adults. This can include:

Physical Abuse: Any intentional use of physical force with the intent to cause fear or injury, like hitting, shoving, biting, strangling, kicking or using a weapon.

Verbal or Emotional Abuse: Non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.

Sexual Abuse: Any action that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including rape, coercion or restricting access to birth control.

Digital Abuse: Use of technologies and/or social media networking to intimidate, harass or threaten a current or ex-dating partner. This could include demanding passwords, checking cell phones, cyber bullying, sexting, excessive or threatening texts or stalking on Facebook or other social media.

More information on dating violence can be viewed online at Break the Cycle.org

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