Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17393 Dating Norms and Dating Violence Among Ninth Graders In Northeast Georgia: Reports From Student Surveys and Focus Groups

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 8:30 AM
Arlington (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Patricia M. Reeves, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Pamela Orpinas, PhD, Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Purpose: The purpose of this mixed-methods study is to examine the role of social norms and their association with physical aggression in dating relationships. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it is the first study with this focus to combine quantitative and qualitative methods, thus providing a more holistic understanding of dating violence—specifically the norms that support male-to-female and female-to-male dating violence in a diverse sample of ninth graders. Dating violence is a phenomenon of particular concern because involvement in romantic relationships is an important step for adolescents in their journey to adulthood. Between one-fifth and one-half of dating adolescents report being victims of physical aggression by their partners. Because previous research reveals that norms related to dating violence may vary by demographic characteristics and dating experience, we compared norms supporting dating violence by sex, race/ethnicity, and dating status. Further, we examined the norms supporting dating violence and the reported physical aggression and victimization in dating relationships in the subgroup of students who reported dating. The qualitative study investigated the meaning of dating violence from the perspectives of the adolescents themselves.

Methods: We collected data as part of Healthy Teens, a longitudinal, mixed-methods study that followed a cohort of students yearly from Grades 6 to 12. Students attended one of nine middle schools, which fed into eight high schools in Northeast Georgia. We report results from surveys and focus groups when the students were in the ninth grade because it was the first year we collected quantitative and qualitative data. The final sample (surveys) comprised 624 students, 90 of whom participated in 12 focus groups (randomly sampled within gender groups). Students completed the surveys online in the schools' media centers and received a US$20 gift card. We conducted focus groups on site and gave students a healthy snack. The university's Institutional Review Board approved all protocols. For the regression analysis of the survey data we used a generalized mixed model with school as a random effect; statistical analyses were performed with SAS 9.2 PROC GLIMMIX, and we analyzed the focus group data using the constant comparative method.

Results: Findings revealed more support for female-to-male aggression, greater acceptance of norms supporting dating violence by non-Caucasian students, a strong association between norms and physical aggression but only in males, and a high correlation between victimization and perpetration. Participants rejected male-to-female dating aggression because of peer pressure not to hit girls, parents' beliefs that denounce dating violence, the superior physical advantage of boys over girls, and legal consequences.

Conclusions and Implications: The mutually supportive findings in this mixed-methods study point to the need to examine the content of evidence-based dating violence programs. To do justice to a phenomenon as complex as dating violence these curriculums must be reviewed regularly and infused with incremental gains in knowledge about cultural, social, and gender-based influences on behavior. Our findings also underscore a critical need for culturally-sensitive prevention programs developed for specific populations, differentiated by gender, race/ethnicity, and other cultural and economic influences.