If It Hurts You, Then It Is Not a Joke

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1 If It Hurts You, Then It Is Not a Joke Adolescents Ideas About Girls and Boys Use and Experience of Abusive Behavior in Dating Relationships Heather A. Sears E. Sandra Byers John J. Whelan Marcelle Saint-Pierre The Dating Violence Research Team University of New Brunswick Journal of Interpersonal Violence Volume 21 Number 9 September Sage Publications / hosted at This study examined adolescents ideas about girls and boys use and experience of physical and psychological abuse in heterosexual dating relationships. Canadian high school students who were enrolled in Grades 9 and 11 took part in single-gender focus groups. Eight themes emerged from the analysis. The themes highlight the importance teenagers place on context for defining specific behaviors as abusive. They also underscore gender differences in the criteria adolescents use to make these judgments, in the forms of abusive behavior teenagers typically use in a dating relationship, and in the reasons for youths declining use of physical abuse and increasing use of psychological abuse. These views have important implications for future research and for programs targeting adolescent dating violence. Keywords: dating violence; adolescents; psychological abuse; physical abuse; focus groups Authors Note: This research was supported by grants from Health Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the University of New Brunswick Faculty Research Fund. We would like to thank the school superintendents, principals, teachers, and guidance counsellors who facilitated this project and the students who participated. Please address correspondence concerning this article to Heather A. Sears, Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick, Bag Service #45444, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada E3B 6E4;

2 1192 Journal of Interpersonal Violence During the past two decades, several studies have documented that physical and psychological abuse are part of many adolescent heterosexual dating relationships (Foshee, 1996; Henton, Cate, Koval, Lloyd, & Christopher, 1983; Jackson, Cram, & Seymour, 2000). Most of this research has focused on physical abuse. This body of work has generated estimates of youths experiences of physical violence that range from 9% to more than 40% (Bergman, 1992; Feiring, Deblinger, Hoch-Espada, & Haworth, 2002; O Keefe & Treister, 1998; Roscoe & Callahan, 1985). Although it has been evaluated much less frequently, psychological abuse tends to be even more common (Feiring et al., 2002; Hird, 2000; Jackson et al., 2000). The figures on teenagers perpetration of physical and psychological abuse in their dating relationships are comparable (Foshee, 1996; Lavoie et al., 2002; Roscoe & Callahan, 1985). With only a few exceptions (e.g., Feiring et al., 2002; Foshee, 1996; Jackson et al., 2000; Wolfe, Wekerle, Reitzel-Jaffe, & Lefebvre, 1998), studies of adolescents use and experience of dating violence have relied on measures that (a) were created for adults and college students and (b) reflect researchers ideas about this topic. For example, many authors have assessed the frequencies of specific behaviors defined a priori as physical violence or psychological violence. However, they have not determined the extent to which teenagers would also identify these behaviors in this way. As a result, it is not clear whether measures of dating violence capture youths understanding of this issue. To ensure the validity of research with adolescents on this topic, and to maximize the likelihood that it can be translated into effective prevention strategies, it is essential that we know how teenagers define dating violence. One way to pursue this knowledge is to discuss with youths directly their ideas about adolescents use and experience of violence in their dating relationships. It is surprising to note that there have been few qualitative studies of dating violence, even though this research approach can result in much-needed information about the context in which dating violence occurs (Jackson, 1999; Lavoie, Robitaille, & Hebert, 2000). The purpose of the current study was to explore teenagers ideas about physical and psychological abuse in dating relationships. How do youths understand dating violence? From the perspective of adolescents, what constitutes physical abuse or psychological abuse in a dating relationship? Gender and Adolescents Use and Experience of Dating Violence Recent reviews of the dating violence literature agree that gender is a critical component of abusive behavior in dating relationships (Jackson,

3 Sears et al. / Abusive Behavior in Dating Relationships ; Lewis & Fremouw, 2001; Wekerle & Wolfe, 1999). To better understand the nature of dating violence, then, it is critical that we consider variation by gender in the occurrence, context, and consequences of this behavior (Jackson, 1999). For example, research has indicated that girls and boys are physically and psychologically abusive toward their dating partners. However, conclusions about the relative frequency with which they engage in these behaviors are elusive, in part depending on whether youths are asked about their use of or experience of dating violence. In some national and community-based studies, similar proportions of boys and girls report experiencing physical and psychological abuse in their dating relationships (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2002; Halpern, Oslak, Young, Martin, & Kupper, 2001; Hird, 2000). In contrast, other authors have found that more girls than boys report experiencing physical abuse (Bennett & Fineran, 1998; Bergman, 1992; Feiring et al., 2002), and more boys than girls report experiencing psychological abuse (Bergman, 1992; Molidor, 1995). Research on teenagers use of violence has often reported that more girls than boys are physically and psychologically abusive toward their dating partners (Foshee, 1996; O Keefe, 1997; Wolfe et al., 1998), although boys are more likely to use severe physical violence (e.g., Bennett & Fineran, 1998). Authors have offered a variety of explanations for these discrepancies, such as sample selection bias with more girls than boys participating in studies, boys minimization of their use of abusive behaviors, and girls use of abusive behaviors in self-defense or retaliation (Foshee, 1996; Hird, 2000; Molidor & Tolman, 1998; O Keefe, 1997). Wekerle and Wolfe (1999) suggested that patterns of violence within adolescent relationships may be less differentiated by gender than in adult relationships. They noted that there is a high rate of mutually violent profiles in studies that have measured teenagers use and experience of abuse. According to Jackson (1999), violence rates are distorted because studies frequently use measures of dating violence that do not capture the context or consequences of aggression. However, no studies have asked adolescents which of these patterns is consistent with their impressions of dating violence. Do youths perceive more boys or more girls as abusive or do they view girls and boys as abusive at about equal rates? Do their perceptions differ for physical abuse and psychological abuse? Gender and the Context and Consequences of Dating Violence Gender also emerges frequently as a factor when researchers consider the context in which abusive behavior occurs. Although few studies have

4 1194 Journal of Interpersonal Violence considered what motivates girls and boys to use aggressive behaviors, it appears that more girls than boys act aggressively in self-defense whereas more boys than girls act aggressively in an effort to be playful or to control their partner (Jackson, 1999; Wekerle & Wolfe, 1999). Youths have also stated that dating violence is more likely when teenagers, especially boys, are using alcohol or drugs or when dating partners have communication problems or a conflicted relationship (Lavoie et al., 2000; Molidor & Tolman, 1998; O Keefe, 1997). Even though boys and girls generally agree on the primary causes of dating violence (e.g., specific situations that evoke feelings of jealousy, anger, or confusion), girls are more likely to view violence as attempts to intimidate whereas boys attribute violence to provocation (Gagne & Lavoie, 1993; Jackson et al., 2000; Roscoe & Callahan, 1985). Adolescents reports of the consequences of experiencing abusive behavior also highlight the gendered nature of dating violence. Research shows that physically and psychologically abusive behaviors are stressful for youths and elicit a variety of negative emotions, including anger, hurt, and fear (Henton et al., 1983; Jackson et al., 2000; O Keefe & Treister, 1998). However, more girls than boys report a severe emotional reaction (e.g., fear) and physical injuries from dating violence whereas more boys than girls report that they were not bothered by the incident (Foshee, 1996; Jackson et al., 2000; Molidor & Tolman, 1998). Experiences of dating violence are also detrimental to adolescents mental and physical health (e.g., Coker et al., 2000), yet do not necessarily result in the end of the dating relationship. Furthermore, youths disclose experiences of dating violence to friends rather than parents or other adults, if they talk to anyone at all (Bergman, 1992; Henton et al., 1983; Molidor & Tolman, 1998). In some samples, these patterns are gendered with more girls than boys continuing in abusive relationships and disclosing their victimization (Bergman, 1992; Jackson et al., 2000). Given the variation in patterns by gender across studies, it is surprising that youths perceptions of how the use and experience of dating violence differ for girls and boys have not been investigated; that is, how do teens understand boys and girls use and experience of physical and psychological abuse? Do they view the context and consequences of dating violence as important for understanding boys and girls use and experience of abusive behavior? To address our various questions about violence in adolescent dating relationships, we conducted focus groups with boys and girls on physical or psychological abuse between dating partners. We chose this qualitative methodology to provide insights into the lived experiences of youths, specifically regarding the nuances of how adolescents see gender affecting dating

5 Sears et al. / Abusive Behavior in Dating Relationships 1195 violence, its causes, and its consequences. We used single-gender groups because we thought teenagers, especially boys, would be more willing to discuss this potentially sensitive issue as part of such a group. We explored youths ideas about physical abuse and psychological abuse because these forms of abuse occur relatively frequently and because psychological abuse has been understudied relative to physical abuse. We started each group by asking adolescents about dating violence, in general, and then either psychological or physical abuse, in particular, prior to initiating a discussion of boys and girls involvement in abusive dating relationships. Participants and Procedure Method The participants were adolescents who were enrolled in Grades 9 or 11 in three Anglophone and four Francophone schools in New Brunswick, Canada. They were predominately White and living in small towns. Youths were invited to participate in a group discussion of adolescent dating relationships by a teacher or guidance counsellor. School staff were instructed to select students who they thought would be comfortable in a group setting and who were representative of adolescents of their gender and age. Interested students were given an information sheet for parents that described the study. In total, 16 focus groups (eight with girls only and eight with boys only) discussed teenagers ideas about psychological abuse in dating relationships; an additional 10 focus groups (five with girls only and five with boys only) discussed teenagers ideas about physical abuse in dating relationships. Focus groups were conducted in the language of instruction of the school, and each group involved between 8 and 13 students who were in the same grade. The groups were conducted at the students schools; the moderator and the recorder were the only adults present during the group discussion. Following the guidelines of Krueger (1994) and Morgan (1988) for conducting focus groups, a moderator and a recorder greeted the adolescents as they arrived to participate. The moderator informed the youths about the purpose of and procedure for conducting the focus group. Students were asked if they had any questions, and adolescents who were not comfortable in the group were given an opportunity to leave (none did). To facilitate the focus groups, the moderator followed an interview guide that had been prepared by the dating violence research team (see the appendix; the interview guides are

6 1196 Journal of Interpersonal Violence available in French from the first author). We used the term emotional abuse in the focus groups that discussed psychological abuse because research team members thought that this term was more familiar to youths. Each question in the guide was followed by a number of probes. All focus groups were audiotaped and lasted between 60 and 90 minutes. On completion of the focus group, youths were thanked for their participation and were provided with written information about dating violence and a list of resource people in their school and community to contact if they wished to discuss issues related to dating violence. The audiotapes of the focus group sessions were transcribed verbatim and the content of the text was coded in relation to the questions in the interview guide (Morgan, 1988; Silverman, 1993). These coded statements were then compiled under general headings (e.g., adolescents definitions of psychological abuse). The main themes that emerged under these headings were edited and summarized, reducing the transcripts to a more manageable size (i.e., 8 to 10 pages). Members of the research team then independently reviewed the abridged transcripts and submitted written feedback about central themes. The central themes were also discussed during an audiotaped meeting among research team members. The written and verbal comments made by research team members were used to inform the final results. Results Eight central themes representing teenagers ideas about dating violence emerged from the focus groups. Because the themes were very similar among youths who discussed physical abuse and those who discussed psychological abuse, the results are presented together. The themes also were consistent across the groups that were conducted in English and in French, and across the groups that were conducted with girls and with boys (see the second theme for one difference by gender). Excerpts from the transcripts of the focus groups that were conducted in English are included to illustrate the themes in the adolescents words. Theme 1: Youths Define Behaviors as Abusive Only in Specific Contexts The adolescents listed several behaviors that they thought described physical abuse (e.g., hitting, pushing, grabbing, kicking) or psychological abuse (e.g., jealousy, name calling, threats, silent treatment). However, their comments indicated that they see these behaviors as abusive only in specific

7 Sears et al. / Abusive Behavior in Dating Relationships 1197 situations. From their perspective, a behavior, such as jealousy or hitting, can be abusive in one context but may not be abusive in another context. For example, jealousy is abusive if there is a threat of physical harm or it occurs repeatedly; however, it may not be abusive if it is perceived as joking around or as demonstrating caring. Abuse is dependent on the effect, not the behavior itself. There are conditions and situations. (Julia) It really depends on how much you do it. (Shawn) And on your physical strength. (Eric) Theme 2: Boys Define Abuse by Its Intent; Girls Define Abuse by Its Impact Although boys and girls agreed that the context in which a behavior occurs is critical for defining that behavior as abusive, they used different criteria to make that judgment. Specifically, boys tended to describe behaviors as abusive if the intent was negative, whereas girls tended to describe behaviors as abusive if the impact was negative; that is, boys viewed specific behaviors as abusive if there is anger behind it or if there was an intention to cause hurt, but not if it was an accident or if it was intended as a joke. In contrast, girls viewed specific behaviors as abusive if they caused uneasiness, physical or emotional hurt, or fear. Yeah, if you intend to hurt a person by doing it, it s violence, but if you are just you know you are playing around and it gets a little out of hand and it s an accident, I mean it is still not right, but it s just an accident. (Trent) If it hurts you, then it is not a joke. (Tracy) Theme 3: Boys Use More Physical Abuse and Girls Use More Psychological Abuse According to the participants, boys and girls use physically and psychologically abusive behaviors in their dating relationships. There also was general agreement that boys use physical violence more than girls, and that girls use psychological abuse more than boys. I would say guys are more apt to be physically abusive to a girl. (Lisa) Every time I think about physical abuse I think about a guy doing it to a girl. (Alec) Girls are more emotionally abusive than guys. (Julia) Girls around here do not do things that would hurt you. They do things that make you feel bad for a while...yeah, like the guilt trip. (Tim)

8 1198 Journal of Interpersonal Violence The teenagers attributed gender differences in youths more frequent use of specific abusive behaviors to differences in how boys and girls cope with stressful situations. They suggested that because boys are not encouraged to talk about their feelings or problems, they often keep their feelings contained until they build up and then explode physically and/or emotionally. In contrast, they view girls as being more likely to express their anger verbally rather than through physical force, and as having more options for dealing with intense feelings (e.g., talking, crying). As a result, they [girls] do not need to resort to physical violence. I find that we hold it in a lot more and it just builds up, it kind of builds up and then just boom. Kind of explosive, it just happens. (Jeremy) That s what leads to physical violence. It is that they keep so much inside of them. (Beth) We are more likely to speak out we can go cry to our friends. (Vanessa) Girls will feel hurt inside, but they talk about it. (Steven) Theme 4: Youths Perceive a Double Standard Associated with Boys Versus Girls Use of Physical Violence In their discussions of physical abuse in dating relationships, the teens indicated that there is a double standard for boys and girls regarding use of physical violence. Specifically, boys use of physical aggression with girls is sanctioned heavily by peers and by adults. In contrast, girls use of physical aggression with boys is not viewed as abusive by either youths or adults, so girls are more likely to get away with abuse. Girls use of physically abusive behavior is often laughed off as joking around because they usually do not cause physical harm to the boys. Even guys get on other guys. If a guy finds out that another guy slapped a girl he will go right to him....teachers too would look at you...they would mark you for it. (Trent) Even if you see a girl slap her boyfriend, you think oh, they re just playing. You don t think of it as being physical violence. It s not viewed as abuse. (Carrie) Theme 5: Psychological Abuse Reflects a Struggle for Control The adolescents reported that dating involves a struggle for control and, in the absence of other skills, psychological abuse is part of that struggle. According to the youths, girls and boys are using psychological abuse more

9 Sears et al. / Abusive Behavior in Dating Relationships 1199 now than in the past. Girls are using psychological abuse to gain power and control in the dating relationship. This is in response to the societal message that girls need to take care of themselves instead of depending on a male to take care of them or accepting problematic behavior from a partner. Boys are using psychological abuse as a new way to establish control in the dating relationship because males have to be seen as in control by their friends and because physical abuse is no longer seen as acceptable. Emotional abuse is on the increase with women s changing role...emotional abuse is a way to gain power. (Sharon) Men and women both want control, and they will do it emotionally now that they can t do it physically. (Ben) Theme 6: Physical Abuse and Psychological Abuse Are Connected Even though separate focus groups were used to discuss physical abuse and psychological abuse in dating relationships, the adolescents viewed these two types of abuse as integrally connected. They discussed issues related to physical abuse and psychological abuse interchangeably in both groups. They also indicated that psychological abuse often precedes and usually accompanies physical abuse. They felt that psychologically abusive behaviors, such as jealousy and a desire for control, are important factors setting the stage for physical abuse. People can mentally abuse people without physically abusing them. But I also think that when people physically abuse, I think that mental abuse just always goes with it. (Rachael) Physical abuse is kind of tied in with emotional abuse because then you get scared of them. (Patrick) Theme 7: Embarrassment Prevents Teens From Disclosing Dating Violence The youths stated that instances of dating violence against girls or boys are not being disclosed. Girls and boys are embarrassed to report what has happened to them; it appears that the more serious the abusive situation, the less likely they are to talk about it. According to the teenagers, one negative consequence of recent education efforts to raise students awareness of dating violence is that some youths are even more determined to keep the

10 1200 Journal of Interpersonal Violence abuse secret because anyone who ends up in that situation must be a real dummy or must deserve it. Girls fear people judging them as deserving it and boys will be laughed at. (Amanda) I wouldn t want anyone to know that I was getting smacked around by my girlfriend. I would be embarrassed. (David) It seems like it [awareness] has two effects...it might help you so you don t become abused because you know what is going on...but some people are keeping it quiet too because they are embarrassed. (Joanne) Theme 8: Adolescents Want Skills to Have Healthy Relationships The adolescents clearly stated that dating violence is an issue of concern to them. They were willing to participate in this research and were willing to be part of a solution. In terms of intervention and prevention efforts, they suggested that dating violence presentations should be made in school before youths start dating, that warning signs should be highlighted during these presentations, and that youths who are physically or psychologically abusive toward dating partners in school should be required to attend counselling rather than be suspended from school. They also realized that awareness of behaviors that occur in abusive dating relationships is only one part of handling this problem. They specifically asked for assistance with developing skills that would help them identify and maintain healthy relationships and deal with relationship conflicts. They need it [talks] at the junior high level when they start dating. Get it before it starts. (Russell) We always focus on the bad relationships, but there are people who work through their problems and have good ones. How do you make it better? (Michelle) Discussion One of the most important themes that emerged from the current study is that adolescents view behaviors as abusive only in specific contexts. Although girls and boys were able to list behaviors that may be physically or psychologically abusive, they emphasized that it is the situation, not the behavior, that determines whether a behavior is abusive. This belief suggests that attitudes supporting violence as acceptable or justified in specific circumstances

11 Sears et al. / Abusive Behavior in Dating Relationships 1201 continue to be widespread among teenagers. Although surveys indicate that neither boys nor girls are very accepting of dating violence overall (Feiring et al., 2002; O Keefe, 1997; Price, Byers, & Dating Violence Research Team, 1999), it is noteworthy that many youths agree that specific abusive behaviors are acceptable in dating relationships. Furthermore, teenagers who perceive the use of violence as a legitimate response in dating relationships are more likely to perpetrate or experience violence (O Keefe & Treister, 1998). Thus, it is critical that intervention programs address youths belief that abusive behaviors are acceptable in specific circumstances. It is also important for researchers to recognize that measures of dating violence that count discrete behaviors may be misleading because the contexts of abusive acts are key to adolescents perceptions of dating violence (Jackson, 1999; Lavoie et al., 2000; Wekerle & Wolfe, 1999). Although the boys and girls agreed on the importance of context for defining behaviors as abusive, they also revealed gender differences in the criteria that youths use to assess whether or not behaviors are abusive; that is, although the boys tended to focus on the intent of the behavior (i.e., if it was purposeful versus an accident ), the girls tended to focus on the behavior s impact (i.e., if it caused physical harm, fear, or anger). This difference in perceptions may partially explain dating violence among teenagers. Boys who do not purposely engage in behavior that will result in harm to their partner may have little motivation to stop their actions regardless of the impact. Abusive behavior may also continue when girls who experience a partner s behavior as hurtful do not communicate their feelings to that partner. Clearly, boys and girls need to communicate more effectively. Boys also need to understand that honorable intentions do not excuse violent behavior whereas girls need to understand that they may not know when their abusive behavior is hurtful because boys tend to keep their feelings bottled up. Youths were aware of their communication deficits and expressed a need to learn about healthy relationships and to develop skills to resolve conflicts without violence. Previous research supports the importance of teaching adolescents how to discuss and respond to feelings given that youths view communication problems as a precipitant of dating violence and that they find it difficult to negotiate conflict in their dating relationships (Grover & Nangle, 2003; Lavoie et al., 2000). Other themes in the current study draw attention to the role of gender in dating violence among adolescents. The teenagers stated that although girls and boys act in abusive ways toward their dating partners, they perceive that boys use physical violence more than girls, and that girls use psychological abuse more than boys. This pattern is consistent with the results of some

12 1202 Journal of Interpersonal Violence previous survey studies (Bennett & Fineran, 1998; Bergman, 1992; Roscoe & Callahan, 1985). The youths attributed this gender difference in adolescents use of specific forms of dating violence to the fact that boys and girls tend to cope with stressful situations in different ways. This pattern has been documented in some previous work (e.g., Connor-Smith, Compas, Wadsworth, Thomsen, & Saltzman, 2000). However, because the samples in our own and some other studies have included youths who have not been directly involved in dating violence, it is unclear to what extent their perceptions are influenced by gender-role expectations and stereotypes. For example, some behaviors (e.g., use of control) may be seen as psychological abuse when used by a girl but as nonabusive or even caring when used by a boy, creating the impression that girls engage in psychological abuse more often than boys. Similarly, some behaviors (e.g., slapping) may be more likely to be seen as physical abuse when used by a boy than a girl. This tendency is consistent with the current findings that context, intent, and impact affect adolescents perceptions of whether a behavior is viewed as abusive, and merits further consideration in future research. The adolescents also described how gender is linked to shifts in the forms of violence that teenagers use in dating relationships. For example, they noted that boys are using physical abuse less often than they have in the past. They saw this trend as a response to the social sanctions boys experience when they are physically aggressive toward their girlfriends. The teenagers view that physical abuse perpetrated by girls is seen as more acceptable than physical abuse perpetrated by boys mirrors results from survey studies that show that adolescent girls and boys are more accepting of girls use of violence than boys use of violence (O Keefe & Treister, 1998; Price et al., 1999). From the youths perspective, this double standard is also held by adults who provide them with mixed messages about the acceptability of abusive behaviors. Adults need to state unequivocally to teenagers that violence is unacceptable regardless of the gender of the perpetrator, and girls must be taught that it is no more acceptable for them to engage in abusive behavior than it is for boys to do so. Similarly, the youths informed us that boys and girls are using psychological abuse more frequently than in the past, often in an effort to establish control in dating relationships. Although studies of adolescents dating relationships have suggested that power is an important factor in the course of a romance (e.g., Nieder & Seiffge-Krenke, 2001), the circumstances in which teenagers use psychologically abusive behaviors to establish or maintain power and control are unclear. Our participants suggested that establishing their independence is a factor for girls whereas maintaining

13 Sears et al. / Abusive Behavior in Dating Relationships 1203 peer status is a factor for boys. It is imperative that these and other circumstances be identified, particularly because the youths in the current study indicated that psychological abuse may set the stage for physical abuse (see also Molidor, 1995). The finding that many boys and girls do not disclose their experiences of dating violence, usually because of embarrassment and fear of disapproval, also speaks to the importance of identifying individual characteristics and social situations that increase the likelihood that psychological abuse will occur. To eliminate dating violence, research and prevention efforts must specifically address the use of psychologically abusive behaviors in adolescent dating relationships. We must also clearly communicate to teenagers that abuse is not their fault and that they must tell a trusted adult when it does occur. The results of the current study must be considered in light of its limitations. First, the adolescents were predominately White and were living in a primarily rural province. As a result, the issues generated from their discussions may not be salient for teenagers of different ethnicities or those living in large urban areas. Second, use of a focus group method with a sample in which many of the teenagers were known to each other, even if they were not friends, may have deterred at least some youths from speaking openly about their views of violence in dating relationships. Third, the youths discussions were limited to violence in heterosexual dating relationships and therefore do not enhance our understanding of dating violence in gay and lesbian relationships. Fourth, the extent to which adolescents in the current study had experienced or used dating violence is not known. Discussions with youths who have used or experienced abusive behaviors and with adolescent couples may provide additional perspectives on dating violence. Nonetheless, the results of the current qualitative study of adolescents ideas about girls and boys use and experience of physical and psychological abuse in dating relationships show that youths are very aware of the complexities associated with dating violence, and that boys and girls generally agree on the nature of these complexities. The teenagers discussed a variety of issues, ranging from the importance of context for defining specific behaviors as abusive to gender differences in the reasons why psychological abuse may be increasing. They also stated that they wish to learn the interpersonal skills they need to initiate and sustain healthy romantic relationships. Some of their insights are consistent with results from previous research; others draw attention to issues that are significant from the teenager s point of view. Together, their ideas provide many directions to researchers, practitioners and other adults who are interested in eliminating violence from adolescent dating relationships.

14 1204 Journal of Interpersonal Violence Psychological Abuse Appendix Interview Guides 1. Question We are meeting to talk about your views, opinions, and feelings about dating violence. To begin, when I talk about dating violence, what kinds of things do you think about? 2. Transition Question There is much talk these days about the kinds of violence that occur in relationships, including teenage dating relationships. Are there things that go on between dating teenagers that you would call violence? 3. Key Questions a. One type of problem that is talked about quite a bit is emotional abuse. This term is often associated with particular behaviors between partners, including insults, controlling, pressuring, and yelling at one s partner. Let s discuss these one at a time: (a) insulting one s partner, (b) controlling one s partner, (c) pressuring one s partner, (d) yelling at one s partner. b. How would you explain the finding that boys and girls are about equal in their use of emotional abuse in dating relationships? c. When emotional abuse does happen, is it important enough to do something about it? Why? 4. Ending Question Given everything we have discussed during the past hour or so, what stands out as most important to you? Is there any point you would have liked to comment on further? 5. Summary A summary of the group s main points is provided. Is my summary of our discussion accurate or are there important points that I have not mentioned? 6. Final Question Is there anything we have missed? Are there other questions that need to be discussed in reference to emotional abuse? Physical Abuse 1. Introductory Question We are meeting to talk about your views, opinions, and feelings about dating violence. To begin, when I talk about dating violence, what kinds of things do you think about?

15 Sears et al. / Abusive Behavior in Dating Relationships Question There is much talk these days about the kinds of violence that occur in relationships, including teenage dating relationships. Are there things that go on between dating teenagers that you would call violence? 3. Key Questions a. One type of problem that is talked about quite a bit is physical abuse. This term is often associated with particular behaviors between partners, including pushing, slapping, kicking, and punching one s partner. Let s discuss these one at a time: (a) pushing one s partner, (b) slapping one s partner, (c) kicking one s partner, (d) punching one s partner. b. How would you explain the finding that boys and girls are about equal in their use of physical abuse in dating relationships? c. When physical abuse does happen, is it important enough to do something about it? Why? 4. Ending Question Given everything we have discussed during the past hour or so, what stands out as most important to you? Is there any point you would have liked to comment on further? 5. Summary A summary of the group s main points is provided. Is my summary of our discussion accurate or are there important points that I have not mentioned? 6. Final Question Is there anything we have missed? Are there other questions that need to be discussed in reference to physical abuse? References Bennett, L., & Fineran, S. (1998). Sexual and severe physical violence among high school students: Power beliefs, gender, and relationship. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 68, Bergman, L. (1992). Dating violence among high school students. Social Work, 37, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2002). Youth risk behavior surveillance United States, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 51(SS04), Coker, A. L., McKeown, R. E., Sanderson, M., Davis, K., Valois, R. F., & Huebner, S. (2000). Severe dating violence and quality of life among South Carolina high school students. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 19, Connor-Smith, J. K., Compas, B. E., Wadsworth, M. E., Thomsen, A. H., & Saltzman, H. (2000). Responses to stress in adolescence: Measurement of coping and involuntary stress responses. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, Feiring, C., Deblinger, E., Hoch-Espada, A., & Haworth, T. (2002). Romantic relationship aggression and attitudes in high school students: The role of gender, grade, and attachment and emotional styles. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31,

16 1206 Journal of Interpersonal Violence Foshee, V. A. (1996). Gender differences in adolescent dating abuse prevalence, types and injuries. Health Education Research, 11, Gagne, M., & Lavoie, F. (1993, Fall). Young people s views on the causes of violence in adolescents romantic relationships. Canada s Mental Health, 41, Grover, R. L., & Nangle, D. W. (2003). Adolescent perceptions of problematic heterosocial situations: A focus group study. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32, Halpern, C. T., Oslak, S. G.,Young, M. L., Martin, S. L., & Kupper, L. L. (2001). Partner violence among adolescents in opposite-sex romantic relationships: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. American Journal of Public Health, 91, Henton, J., Cate, R., Koval, J., Lloyd, S., & Christopher, S. (1983). Romance and violence in dating relationships. Journal of Family Issues, 4, Hird, M. J. (2000). An empirical study of adolescent dating aggression in the U.K. Journal of Adolescence, 23, Jackson, S. M. (1999). Issues in the dating violence research: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 4, Jackson, S. M., Cram, F., & Seymour, F. W. (2000). Violence and sexual coercion in high school students dating relationships. Journal of Family Violence, 15, Krueger, R. A. (1994). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Lavoie, F., Hebert, M., Tremblay, R., Vitaro, F., Vezina, L., & McDuff, P. (2002). History of family dysfunction and perpetration of dating violence by adolescent boys: A longitudinal study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 30, Lavoie, F., Robitaille, L., & Hebert, M. (2000). Teen dating relationships and aggression: An exploratory study. Violence Against Women, 6, Lewis, S. F., & Fremouw, W. (2001). Dating violence: A critical review of the literature. Clinical Psychology Review, 21, Molidor, C., & Tolman, R. M. (1998). Gender and contextual factors in adolescent dating violence. Violence Against Women, 4, Molidor, C. E. (1995). Gender differences in psychological abuse in high school dating relationships. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 12, Morgan, D. L. (1988). Focus groups as qualitative research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Nieder, T., & Seiffge-Krenke, I. (2001). Coping with stress in different phases of romantic development. Journal of Adolescence, 24, O Keefe, M. (1997). Predictors of dating violence among high school students. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12, O Keefe, M., & Treister, L. (1998). Victims of dating violence among high school students: Are the predictors different for males and females? Violence Against Women, 4, Price, E. L., Byers, E. S., & the Dating Violence Research Team. (1999). The Attitudes Towards Dating Violence Scales: Development and initial validation. Journal of Family Violence, 14, Roscoe, B., & Callahan, J. E. (1985). Adolescents self-report of violence in families and dating relations. Adolescence, 20, Silverman, D. (1993). Interpreting qualitative data: Methods for analysing talk, text, and interaction. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Wekerle, C., & Wolfe, D. A. (1999). Dating violence in mid-adolescence: Theory, significance, and emerging prevention initiatives. Clinical Psychology Review, 19, Wolfe, D. A., Wekerle, C., Reitzel-Jaffe, D., & Lefebvre, L. (1998). Factors associated with abusive relationships among maltreated and nonmaltreated youth. Development and Psychopathology, 10,

17 Sears et al. / Abusive Behavior in Dating Relationships 1207 Heather A. Sears is an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Brunswick. Her research focuses on various aspects of adolescent development, including youths helpseeking behavior, teenagers and parents appraisals of adolescent problems, family relationships during adolescence, and sexual health education at school and at home. E. Sandra Byers is a professor of psychology at the University of New Brunswick. She was the founding director of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research and was coordinator of the Dating Violence Research Team at the time of this study. Her research examines multiple areas of human sexuality and dating violence. John J. Whelan completed his PhD at the University of New Brunswick under the supervision of the first author. He is the clinical supervisor of an addiction services program for the Canadian Forces and is engaged in private practice. His research interests include treatment outcomes in evidence-based interventions for trauma and dual diagnosis disorders. Marcelle Saint-Pierre is a social worker employed as manager of a project examining primary health care reform in New Brunswick. She has more than 15 years of experience working on community development and international development projects and has participated in several studies of New Brunswick youths involvement in various risk behaviors. The Dating Violence Research Team is a multidisciplinary bilingual team of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research. Team members who contributed to this research are Nicole Belliveau, Robert Bonner, Bruno Caron, Daniel Doiron, Alice Guerette-Breau, Leslie Brannen, Margaret Layden-Oreto, Linda Legere, Suzanne Lemieux, Marie-Berthe Lirette, Gabrielle Maillet, Carol McMullin, Rebecca Moore, and Lisa Price.

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