Dating Violence Overlooked in Schools

Dating violence receives little attention or prevention efforts from schools

(RxWiki News) Patterns of interpersonal relationships developed in the adolescent years often form the foundation of adult relationships throughout life. Hence, a rocky start is cause for concern.

A recent study involving a survey of secondary school counselors found that issues related to dating violence among teens is not receiving much attention from schools.

The facts are that up to a third of teenagers may experience abuse in a romantic relationship during their teen years.

"Talk to your teen about dating violence and prevention."

In a study led by Jagdish Khubchandani, PhD, MPH, of the Department of Physiology and Health Science and Global Health Institute at Ball State University in Indiana, researchers sought to find out how school counselors perceived the problem of dating violence among teens and whether their schools had procedures in place to identify and handle these situations.

The researchers gave extensive 4-page questionnaires to 523 random counselors who were members of the American School Counselors Association, and 58 percent of them responded.

Among the 305 counselors who filled out the surveys, 81 percent said their school did not have any protocol in place to respond to incidents of dating violence among their students.

Additionally, 90 percent of them reported that no training had been offered to faculty or staff in the previous two years regarding how to help teenagers who had experienced dating abuse.

A total of 71 percent had never received any formal training in handling adolescent dating violence.

The vast majority also reported that the school did not conduct any surveys with questions about teen dating abuse behaviors (83 percent) or have any regular meetings to address health and safety concerns that included relationship violence among teens (76 percent).

Although the survey population was small, these results reveal that schools do not make it a priority to address possible issues of dating abuse. In fact, the issue does not appear to be on the radar of many schools.

The researchers cited background research that anywhere from 9 to 34 percent of teens are affected by interpersonal dating abuse, which includes physical, sexual, psychological or emotional violence within a romantic relationship.

LuAnn Pierce, a licensed clinical social worker not associated with this study, said the findings were disappointing.

"While much adolescent dating violence does not happen on school grounds, the behavioral and emotional clues that something is wrong should at least raise an interest in schools," Pierce said. "Training school counselors, social workers and teachers to recognize and intervene in adolescent dating violence is critical to keeping kids safe."

The researchers made several recommendations to improve the awareness and responses of schools to dating violence among its students.

They first recommended that organizations that focus on school health offer continuing education and training to school faculties and staffs on how to help victims of interpersonal violence and how to help prevent the abuse.

They also recommended that schools periodically survey its students about how common dating violence occurs and what its characteristics are among its particular student population.

Finally, they recommended that advocacy groups use the school surveys to encourage legislators and school administrators to consider policies and guidelines that can help prevent teen dating violence and offer assistance to those it affects.

Meanwhile, Pierce said this study should catch parents' attention as well.

"Getting parents involved, like the victims of bullying, is a key component to successful intervention," she said. "Parents also need to be better prepared for how to address adolescent dating violence."

The first step is recognizing that it's going on - even if the abused person doesn't speak up.

"As with all dating violence, the person who is being abused often hides the signs or fails to recognize their treatment as abusive," Pierce said. "The teens will usually go to great lengths to protect the abusive partner and often do not want to end the relationship."

The study was published July 9 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded partly by a SOPHE/CDC Fellowship in Child and Adolescent health award and research funds from the Global Health Institute at Ball State University. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
July 8, 2012