Is Teen Dating Violence More Prevalent in Rural Parts of the Country?

Is Teen Dating Violence More Prevalent in Rural Parts of the Country?

Teens in rural parts of the United States are at much higher risk for teen dating violence than their counterparts in other parts of the country. More than 1 in 3 women in the United States will suffer some form of intimate partner violence during their lifetimes. A 2011 study showed that women who lived in rural areas were more likely to suffer higher levels of physical abuse from intimate partners than their urban counterparts.

A recent study on the subject was conducted by Erin Winstanley, an associate professor in the Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry and Department of Neuroscience, West Virginia University School of Medicine. The study focused on levels of teen dating violence among rural young women in rural Appalachian areas. These women were also receiving substance abuse treatment.

The study found that 54.3 % of the women reported having difficulty in at least 4 out of 8 life areas during childhood. Areas reported included mental health problems, alcohol or drug use, emotional abuse, physical abuse, teen dating violence, sexual abuse, neglect, and family dissolution. 

In contrast, only 15.8 % of Americans outside of rural communities reported difficulties in similar areas at similar levels.

In the study, 25.9 % of women and 8.2 % of men reported being forced to have sex before they turned 18 years of age. 42.4 % of the women in the study reported experiencing sexual abuse during childhood. The study reinforces the hypothesis that people who experience childhood sexual or physical abuse also often experience abuse in adulthood. 

In effect, these experiences tend to accumulate as a person goes through life.

Implications of the Study

Increased trauma over time leads to intense feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety, and depression. The presence of mental health issues tends to come before the presence of substance abuse for trauma victims. And all too often, people self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.

This study has profound and hopeful treatment and prevention implications for this population. Early intervention can help break abuse patterns from generation to generation. It can also help victims process intense feelings associated with early trauma. This can reduce the need for self-medication in later years.

Risk Factors in Rural Areas

Risk factors of increased dating violence include substance abuse, family patterns of aggression, and lack of parental closeness. There is a significant correlation between growing up with a battered mother and becoming a victim of dating violence.

Teens who grow up with family patterns of aggression tend to accept pro-violent norms in their relationships. This increases the acceptance of pro-violent norms in intimate partner relationships. These teens tend to develop a dependence on their abusive partners, leading to a cycle of low self-worth.

Often, violence erupts in teen relationships when the relationship is coming to an end. One partner wants out and the other will seek to do whatever is necessary to prevent that from occurring. In rural areas, there are often fewer support services.

Small town life means that everyone knows the abuser and may want to protect that person. Sexual violence in rural populations often goes underreported as a result. That can make dealing with teen dating violence more difficult in those communities.

Isolation and high rates of poverty are also linked to the increased prevalence of intimate partner violence in rural areas. Poverty in the U.S. is correlated to higher rates of violent victimization. Isolation makes it difficult to get services. Victims must travel further and often; services are scarce and underfunded.

The Need For Increased Preventative Measures and Social Services

Preventative interventions should target working with families to diminish patterns of family aggression, neglect, and emotional abuse. Further work can focus on increasing levels of parental closeness. Education, counseling, health services, and legal services need to be made more widely available.

Rural communities can come together using a coordinated approach, using what has become known as the Duluth Model. The model provides an interagency approach. Local police, law enforcement, probation, the courts, and the wider community can form a coalition of services to help vulnerable populations. Because the swath of services is wider, more people can access them.

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW)n an arm of the US. Deptartment of Justice also provides grants to communities working to provide services to protect women and children against violence. The Office sponsors a program for rural communities in particular, the Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking Assistance Program.

Greater attention and coordination of services is needed. Rural communities need to educate and provide services to address patterns of violence in families in these communities. Breaking the pattern of cyclical violence is the goal. Early intervention is key. Coordinating a wide swath of service across a large geographic location may make it easier for families to access these services.

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