New study ties stress to dating violence

I see a lot of news releases about dating each week and none are more depressing than the ones dealing with dating violence. Our country is lousy with it and there’s even been a recent upswing in dating violence among teens.

According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, approximately 1 in 3 adolescent girls in the U.S. has been physically, emotionally or verbally abused by a partner. One in three, folks. As in, if you have three daughters, one of them has been pushed around by her boyfriend (or girlfriend).  And nearly 1 in 10 high school students has been hit, slapped or physically hurt by a partner.

Advocates against domestic and dating violence are constantly searching for answers as to why this is happening. Is it the graphically-violent video games? The casual violence we see in movies and TV? Is it that damned teen vampire series, Twilight?!?

A new study released by the University of New Hampshire suggests it’s something else entirely: stress.

According to a study of more than 14,000 students from 68 universities in 32 countries, Dr. Murray Straus, professor of sociology and co-director of the UNH Family Research Laboratory, found that the more stress experienced by students, the greater the probability they had hit a dating, cohabiting or marital partner.

Specifically, Straus and his team of researchers found that the relation between stress and violence was:

• A global phenomenon. In every country around the world, in both developed and developing nations, stressed-out partners resort to beating each other.
• A unisex phenomenon. Men are hitting women and women are hitting men.
• An everyday phenomenon. It’s not just major traumatic events that trigger the violence but everyday stuff like being pressured by friends to do things and/or living in housing that’s noisy or rundown.
• A ripple-effect phenomenon. The effects of stress experienced in childhood carry over to adulthood, researchers found. Students who went through the stress of being spanked or hit a lot by parents before age 12 were more likely to hit a dating partner than other students.

While it’s nice to see someone doing a study on the causes of dating and domestic violence (a term I’ve never liked since it always sounds like you’re being assaulted by your vacuum cleaner and not your partner), I have to say I’m discouraged by these findings. Especially since here in the U.S. alone, we’re stressed to the max with two wars, a recession, a health care crisis, a banking crisis, massive unemployment, global warming, and now this whole swine flu thing.

Where do we stand when it comes to the international stress-and-violence scale? According to the research, the U.S. is #12 out of 32 countries on the highest to lowest stressful conditions list (Taiwan, South Korea and China are the top three). And we’re #17 out of 32 on the overall assault rate list (Iran, Mexico and Great Britain top the chart).  FYI, the least likely place to get beat up by a partner appears to be Sweden, which comes in at the bottom of both the overall assault and overall serious assault rate list and is near the end of the stressed-out countries queue, as well. 

I suppose the good news in all this is that thanks to the education and awareness efforts of groups like the Family Violence Prevention Fund and Break the Cycle, more and more people are learning about dating violence and its growing prevalence among teens. Which means more and more people are working hard to punch its lights out, kick it to the curb, stop it once and for all.  

Considering the extent to which casual violence permeates our culture, our entertainment and even our language, though, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

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2 Responses to “New study ties stress to dating violence”


  1. 1 standardheart May 11, 2009 at 3:43 am

    “Considering the extent to which casual violence permeates our culture, our entertainment and even our language, though, we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

    I was with you up to this last statement. I think we’ve got our work cut out for us because stress is on the rise with more poverty, longer work hours, less pay, more difficulty taking care of ourselves and our families, fewer resources, news feeds and magazines at every turn to tell us how awful things are and how we don’t measure up and never will, and I think that a lot of the casual violence you are referencing in this statement (movies, video games…swearing?) are used as stress relievers as opposed to stress multipliers.

    Maybe not all of them but enough to consider it.

  2. 2 Singletude June 9, 2009 at 1:49 am

    This is an interesting theory and is, I think, not without merit. Just as important a factor, though, is the increasing depersonalization we experience in U.S. culture. Yes, we see it in the media when video games involve casually blowing players’ heads off and music videos glorify the objectification of women. But I think the root of it begins at home, in our isolated little nuclear families in which kids spend more time prepping for their SATs than getting to know their own parents. They’re taught how to get into college but not how to empathize with other human beings, not how to treat people with dignity and respect. Then it continues to grow and fester in our uber-competitive, consumerist society that treats people as nothing more than human resources, to be used and discarded when they’ve outlived their purpose. In this climate, of course it’s easier than ever for abusers to dehumanize their partners to the point that it’s nothing to abuse them in the worst ways.


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What’s the story?

Meet Diane Mapes, your friendly neighborhood freelance writer. My beats include health (with an emphasis on cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship) and lifestyle and singles issues, but I also love writing about history, natural history, pop culture and TV/film. On this site, you'll find links to stories, praise for my writing (*blush*) and the odd bit of social commentary about the single life. Also here, a few shameless plugs for my books (hint: see links below). Have fun, glad you're here and hope to hear from you soon.

Oh! And if you're looking for my breast cancer blog, go to Double_Whammied

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How to Date in a Post-Dating World A dating manual for the modern, mangled single.

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Single women speak out on life, love and the pursuit of happiness.

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