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More than a quarter of teens in relationships report "digital abuse," study says

More than a quarter of teens in relationships report "digital abuse," study says


Teens in relationships may be susceptible to being digitally abused by their boyfriends or girlfriends, according to a new study by the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center.

The report examines the role technology plays in teen dating abuse and how abusers use tech - from social media to email and text - to intimidate, coerce and harass their partners. 

The study found 26 percent of teens in a romantic relationship said their partners had digitally abused them during the previous year. The findings, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, are based on a survey of 5,647 dating middle-school and high-school students.

“Abusers use technology to stalk their partners, send them degrading messages, embarrass them publicly, and pressure them for sex or sexually explicit photos,” researcher Meredith Dank said.

Among the study’s key findings:

• Girls in a relationship are digitally victimized more often than boys, especially when the abuse is sexual. Overall, girls in relationships report being victims of digital abuse more frequently than boys: 29 and 23 percent, respectively. This divide widens when the reported abuse involves sexual behavior. Approximately 15 percent of girls report sexual digital abuse, compared with 7 percent of boys. The gap narrows when the reported digital abuse is not sexual: 23 percent of girls compared with 21 percent of boys.

• Tampering with a partner’s social media account is the most prevalent form of digital abuse. More than one in twelve teens in a relationship (8.7 percent) say their partner used their social networking account without their permission.

• Acts of sexual digital abuse are the second and third most-reported complaints. Approximately 7 percent of teenagers say their partner sent them texts and/or emails asking them to engage in unwanted sexual acts. The same percentage says their partner pressured them to send a sexually explicit photo of themselves.

• Digital harassment is a red flag for other abuse. Digital abuse in a relationship rarely happens in isolation: 84 percent of the teens who report digital abuse say they were also psychologically abused by their partners, 52 percent say they were also physically abused, and 33 percent say they were also sexually coerced. Only 4 percent of teens in a relationship say the abuse and harassment they experienced was digital alone.

• Roughly 1 out of 12 teens report being both perpetrators and victims of digital abuse. Approximately 8 percent of teens say they were subjected to digital abuse, but also said they treated their partners the same way.

• Schools are relatively free from digital harassment, but remain the centers for physical and psychological abuse. Most digital harassment happens before or after school; only 17 percent of the teens who report digital harassment say they experienced it during school hours.

Victims of relationship digital abuse include girls and boys, middle-school and high-school students, and teens of all sexual orientations. All have one thing in common: they rarely seek help from teachers or authorities.


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