In Canada, Teen Dating Violence Might Be On The Decline

Researchers believe that the study could have implications on future adult dating trends as well.

A new study in Canada suggests physical dating violence (PDV) between adolescents is on the decline. Catherine Shaffer, a Ph.D. student from Simon Fraser University who helped conduct the study, said the data comes from one of the largest sample sizes ever for a study on PDV. 

Though the researchers just focused on British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province, the study returned encouraging results that showed a one percent decrease in overall PDV amongst teens from 2003 to 2013.

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"When you look at it going down from 6 percent in 2003 to 5 percent in 2013, that might seem small," Shaffer told A Plus. "But because the sample is so big, that is definitely a significant decline."

The data came from the British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey and polled more than 18,000 boys and 17,000 girls over a ten year period. Data from the study found that 5.8 percent of boys and 4.2 girls said that they had been the victim of PDV at some point in the last year. For the purpose of the study, PDV was defined as being hit, pushed or physically hurt on purpose by a girlfriend or boyfriend. 

Shaffer hypothesized that the higher rates of PDV amongst boys could be for a number of reasons. A prominent theory is that boys hitting girls has become so socially unacceptable that there is social pressure for it to happen a lot less, while a girl slapping a boy is still considered less inappropriate. She also said it's hard to know if the PDV is a "response" or "self-defense." For instance, a girl may hit a boy because she is reacting to an action he took (like a sexual advance). Other studies have found that girls were still more likely to be victims of more serious forms of violence, like punching or choking.

In the United States, Teen Dating Violence (TDV) has become a particularly big issue in the last decade. While identical studies haven't been done, similar studies that look at TDV — which encompasses emotional, online and physical abuse — show that rates have been relatively stagnant in the United States

Shaffer's study was the first in Canada to look at trends over time and the first in North America to compare boys and girls. Canada has a number of initiatives and organizations trying to combat violence against women and dating violence.

"The decline definitely is very promising," Shaffer said. "Even though it's small, it means whatever is happening is having some kind of effect."

Perhaps most importantly, though, is what the study could say about the future. Shaffer explained that the biggest potential upside of the study is how it may predict adult dating trends that will change.

"Adolescence is such a critical developmental period because that's when the groundwork for when a lot of the behaviors are established," she said. "There is longevity in dating violence. We've done studies looking at adolescents who perpetrated dating violence in youth and if they do similar things in adulthood and there is some consistency over time in these behaviors... that's why focusing on dating violence among teens is so important. If we manage to reduce it at that age, it may set the stage where a lot of people who could perpetrate dating violence or be victims can have healthy relationships in the future."

Cover photo: Shutterstock /  Andrey Arkusha.

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