Environmental Violence Increases Likelihood of Dating Violence and Health Problems


Unfortunately, violence has become a regular part of our environment. “Environment” in this case, can mean the area around our neighborhoods or our children’s schools. And it can mean our virtual environment, on the news or in our children’s video games. As young people develop in today’s interconnected world, each of these exposures to violence has an impact on their relationships and on their long-term health.

A recent study published in the medical journal Pediatrics illustrated the impact of exposure to violence on dating experiences among youths ages 11-17. The participants in this study all had prior exposure to peer violence, adult partner violence, child abuse, or another form of violence in their homes or communities. The percentage of youths who reported subsequent incidents of physical dating violence was 9.2%, compared to 1.6-8.7% found in other studies of youth in general. This study also found differences between genders: significantly more girls than boys reported perpetrating psychological dating violence, while more boys than girls reported perpetrating sexual violence.

So now we know that regardless of the type of violence the youth is exposed to earlier in life, the frequency of future dating violence increases. But does the type of prior violence determine the type of future dating violence? Another study from 2012 published in Psychology of Violence evaluated whether teen dating violence differed with the different types of previous exposure to violence. Overall, 6.4% of teens had experienced physical dating violence, while the percentage increased to 17% for youth who had previously been physically abused by a caregiver. For youth who had previously been raped, it jumped to 25%, and for youth who had previously experienced rape or sexual misconduct by a partner more than 5 years older, it jumped to 50%. Therefore, although any previous violent experiences increases the likelihood of youth dating violence, the type of previous violence impacts the risk for dating violence.

Finally, a study published over 15 years ago in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine looked at whether youths’ exposure to violence was linked to health concerns as adults. This study used a questionnaire completed by adults about experiences of various types of childhood adverse events including abuse (psychological, physical, sexual) or violence in the household. There was a direct correlation between the number of adverse events experienced in childhood and the number of medical conditions in adulthood. Specifically, folks who experienced 4 or more adverse events in childhood were more likely to be depressed, to commit suicide, to become alcoholics, and to use injection drugs. It may make sense that traumatic experiences in childhood have an impact on future mental health, but this study showed that the risk for physical ailments like ischemic heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic bronchitis or emphysema increases as well. From these three points, we can conclude that preventing youth exposure to environmental violence of any kind can improve not only future dating experiences but future health as well.

What We Learned
• Any youth exposure to violence can negatively impact dating relationships, and also the type of violence experienced in childhood can increase the likelihood of dating violence.
• We need to discuss dating violence in youth differently with boys versus girls to target differences in the type of violence experienced and perpetrated.
• It is important to recognize not only the role adult caregivers play in preventing youths’ exposure to violence, but also the role they play in preventing youths’ perpetration of or experience of future dating violence and poor health outcomes.


September 2016. This post was authored by Camdin Gray, University of Illinois at Chicago medical student and Susan Buchanan, MD, MPH, Director of the Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health – Region 5 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU).

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Reidy, D.E., Kearns, M.C., Houry, D., Valle, L.A., Holland, K.M., & Marshall, K.J. (2016). Dating violence and injury among youth exposed to violence. Pediatrics, 137. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-2627
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