Abstract: Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Providers' Perceptions of the Antecedents of Digital Dating Abuse Among Adolescents (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Providers' Perceptions of the Antecedents of Digital Dating Abuse Among Adolescents

Friday, January 13, 2023
Hospitality 1 - Room 443, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Heather Storer, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Carol Scott, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Eva Nyerges, MSW, Student, University of Louisville, KY
Maria Rodriguez, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Liz Utterback, MA, Doctoral Student, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Rebecka Bloomer, PhD, Research Manager, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
25% of high-school age youth will experience some form of digital dating abuse (DDA). DDA includes digital direct aggression, digital monitoring, and digital sexual abuse. Youth that experience DDA are more likely to report adverse mental and emotional health outcomes. Furthermore, a linkage has been found between online and offline dating abuse. While existing scholarship has focused on identifying, defining, and collecting prevalence data related to DDA, there has been less emphasis on identifying antecedents of this issue. This exploratory study aims to construct knowledge related to domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault (SA) service providers' perceptions of the upstream factors that contribute to digital abuse among adolescents and strategies for addressing it.


Interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of organizational representatives from DV/SA (n=35) across the United States. Theoretical sampling was employed to identify culturally specific and non-mainstream organizations. A semi-structured interview guide was utilized to elicit participants’ perspectives on the causes and consequences of DDA. We utilized exploratory thematic content analysis to construct primary thematic domains across the data.


Three primary thematic domains were constructed related to service providers’ perceptions of the root causes of DDA: youth and parental behaviors using technology; the lack of community education related to data hygiene and digital literacy, and societal-level normalization of digital surveillance across various social environments including schools and neighborhoods. Within the theme of youth behaviors, sub-themes were constructed regarding DDA survivors exhibiting technology disinhibition including permissive attitudes related to data security, privacy, and password sharing. Youth were also perceived to be overly reliant on technology and needed to be constantly digitally connected. Parents were critiqued for not monitoring their teens’ digital activities and tracking their children’s cell phones. Participants reflected on the relationship between seemingly innocuous forms of digital tracking and monitoring and teens’ acceptance of online surveillance by dating partners. Within this dataset, there was an underrepresentation of themes related to the lack of government oversight of technology companies or the responsibility of technology companies to promote user safety.

Discussion & Implications for Practice

We live in a time of pronounced societal surveillance, from the proliferation of video monitoring in schools to built-in tracking software on SmartPhones and websites. The results from this study provide an important foundation for developing a primary prevention and harm reduction approach to ameliorating digital dating abuse. It is noteworthy that most themes were focused on individual-level behaviors of youth and their caregivers rather than more structural drivers of technology abuse, such as the lack of state regulation or monitoring of digital technologies. While more community-education on digital literacy will provide an important opportunity for harm reduction, holding youth culpable for the pervasive pull of the modern-day social media algorithm and surveillance capitalism is akin to historical victim-blaming. More research is needed on the relationship between teens' everyday surveillance experiences and attitudes and norms about healthy relationships and dating abuse. Implications for developing and integrating healing-centered universal precautions into the design of digital technologies will be discussed.