Abuse In Dating Relationships Among College Students
Six-hundred-and-twenty never married undergraduates at a large southeastern university responded to an anonymous questionnaire in regard to whether they had experienced abuse (physical and/or emotional) in their current or most recent dating relationship. Seven and 36 percent of the respondents reported that they had been physically and emotionally abused, respectively, by a dating partner. Factors significantly associated with having been physically abused included being female, being involved in a love relationship, living together, being 20 years of age or older, having been emotionally abused by one’s partner, and having been an emotionally and physically abusive partner. Factors significantly associated with having been emotionally abused were being female, being involved in a love relationship, living together, being 20 years of age or older, having been physically abused by one’s partner, and having physically and emotionally abused a dating partner. Implications for college students and university counselors are suggested.
Pamela Lee Anderson of Baywatch told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show in the Spring of 1998 of her wonderful relationship with her husband, Tommy Lee. One week later, he was in jail on charges of spouse abuse. Abuse in any form is a method used to exert power and control by one individual over another in an intimate relationship. Abuse in intimate relationships is not uncommon. Previous researchers have documented abuse not only in marriage (Johnson, 1995) but in high school (O’Keefe, 1997) and college (Hanley and O’Neill, 1997) dating relationships. This study was designed to identify correlates of abusive behavior among a sample of college students.
The data consisted of 620 never married undergraduates from five first year level sociology courses at East Carolina University who voluntarily completed an anonymous questionnaire designed to assess the presence of abuse in one’s current or most recent relationship. Among the respondents, 63% were women; 37% were men. Eighty-percent were first year students and sophomores; twenty percent were juniors and seniors. The median age was 19. Respondents were predominately white (87%) and African-American (8.5%) with 1% Hispanic and 3.6% “other”. About half (51.7%) were casually dating while the other half (48.3%) were involved in a reciprocal love relationship. Ten months was the median number of months respondents reported dating their current partner.
Items 13 and 15 on the 24 item questionnaire were “I have been physically abused by a dating partner” and “I have been emotionally abused by a dating partner” Respondents were asked to respond on a continuum- Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. The category Neither Agree nor Disagree was also an option. Responses to Strongly Agree and Agree were combined as were responses to Strongly Disagree and Disagree. Individuals who circled Neither Agree nor Disagree were eliminated from the analysis. Of 588 questionnaires analyzed for the issue of physical abuse, 45 of the respondents (7.2%) reported that they had been physically abused by a dating partner. Of the 587 questionnaires analyzed for the issue of emotional abuse, 224 of the respondents (36.2%) reported having been emotionally abused by a dating partner.
Correlates of physical abuse were first assessed. Individuals who were significantly more likely to report having been physically abused by a current or dating partner were female, have been involved in a love relationship, have lived with someone they were not married to, were 20 years of age or older, and had been emotionally abused by a dating partner. Other characteristics associated with having been physically abused included having been physically and having been emotionally abusive to a dating partner. These factors and their significance level are summarized in Table 1.1
Table 1.1 CORRELATES OF PHYSICAL ABUSE IN A SAMPLE OF COLLEGE STUDENTS
Factor Significance Level
Involvement in love relationship p<.005
Age 20 or older p<.02
Victim of emotional abuse p<.001
Perpetrator of emotional abuse p<.0001
Perpetrator of physical abuse p<.0001
Correlates of emotional abuse were also assessed. Individuals who were significantly more likely to report having been emotionally abused by a current or dating partner were female, have been involved in a love relationship, have lived with someone they were not married to, were 20 years of age or older, and had been physically abused by a dating partner. Other characteristics associated with having been emotionally abused included being physically and emotionally abusive to a dating partner. These factors and their significance levels are summarized in Table 1.2
Table 1.2 CORRELATES OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE IN A SAMPLE OF COLLEGE STUDENTS
Factor Significance Level
Involvement in love relationship p<.01
Age 20 or older p<.001
Victim of physical abuse p<.00000
Perpetrator of physical abuse p<.005
Perpetrator of emotional abuse p<.00000
These data support previous research that abuse is characteristic of intimate relationships (Riggs and Caulfield, 1997). That females, cohabitants, and emotionally involved individuals are more likely to report such abuse is not new (Bowman and Morgan, 1998; Magdol et al., 1998; Gray and Foshee, 1997). The connection between physical and emotional abuse has also been documented (Murty and Roebuck, 1992).
What this research adds to the literature is that being a perpetrator of physical and emotional abuse toward a partner is associated with being a victim of such abuse (and vice versa). Perhaps partners may only stay (or be allowed to stay) in relationships with others who play their abusive game or tolerate such abuse.
Conclusion and Implications
Abuse, both physical and emotional, remains a fact of dating relationships among college students. These data suggest that the longer a couple is involved and the more emotionally and time committed (cohabitation) they become, the more likely the abuse. The data also suggest that perpetrators become victims (and vice versa) and may inadvertently conspire to allow the abuse to become a recurring factor in their relationship. College students may profit from this awareness by taking responsibility for abuse in those relationships which warrant it and stopping such abuse. Counselors of university students who are involved in abusive relationships might alert their clients to the reciprocal responsibility of abuse in relationships and elicit the cooperation of both partners to end the abuse.
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LEONARDO L. CUSTIS
East Carolina University
MARTY E. ZUSMAN
Indiana University Northwest
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