Methods: The present study was a secondary data analysis of an independent evaluation of the Start Strong program, and included middle school students in 7thgrade (N=1,430). Bullying, sexual harassment, and acceptance of TDV were measured using items in the “Youth Behavior Survey”. Participants were also asked whether they had witnessed dating and/or partner violence and their experiences talking with their parents about dating. One multiple linear regression model explored the relationship between bullying, sexual harassment, and acceptance of dating violence. A second model explored how witnessing dating/partner violence and parent-child communication about dating may strengthen this relationship.
Results: There was a positive relationship between bullying perpetration and the acceptance of dating violence among the study population. For instance, a participant’s level of acceptance of dating violence increased for each experience of bullying perpetration. However, bullying victimization, sexual harassment victimization, and sexual harassment perpetration were not predictors of acceptance of dating violence among study participants. Results also indicated a significant relationship between witnessing/dating partner violence and acceptance of dating violence. Finally, these results revealed differences in acceptance of dating violence between racial/ethnic groups. White participants presented a statistically significant lower level of acceptance of dating violence in comparison to minority group participants.
Conclusions and Implications: There are few studies that currently explore attitudes towards dating violence, as behavior is easier to identify, track, and operationalize. However, the current findings show that witnessing dating/partner violence and bullying perpetration may affect an individual’s view of themselves and others, stressing the need for intervention to address trauma from past experiences and foster positive interactions with others. The results of this study further reinforce the need to provide prevention and intervention efforts for all forms of aggression and violence in childhood and adolescence. While there are several evidence-based practices that aim to prevent TDV, these findings indicate that social workers should continue advocating for early intervention to address early trauma and family relationships. School based programs that focus on social emotional learning and foster safe environments and safe relationships are especially important steps to shape positive, non-violent attitudes and expectations about dating.