Dating violence is under-researched, particularly in Australia, with little known about its prevalence or the young people who use or experience dating violence in Australia. While it is acknowledged that dating can occur at all ages and stages of life, we will focus here on dating within young people’s relationships, typically in the age range of 16–25 years. Young people experiencing dating violence may be younger or older than this age group.
Similar to the definition of adult intimate partner abuse/violence (IPAV) described in Chapter 2: Intimate partner abuse and violence: Identification and initial response, dating violence is defined as any form of IPAV within young people’s relationships, excluding marriage or cohabitation.5 The abuse may be physical, emotional, sexual or coercive control.
Technology-facilitated abuse also commonly occurs within young people’s dating and casual relationships and is discussed in this chapter.
In Australia, the term ‘dating violence’ is not commonly used, and violence within young people’s relationships tends to be embedded within the definitions of IPAV and domestic violence.1,6,7 However, there are significant differences between adult IPAV and dating violence among young people.
Dating violence is unique because of the various developmental stages that young people are at and because dating partners do not usually have shared assets or children, although some couples may be cohabiting if they are in a committed stage of their relationship.8 As with adult IPV, dating violence is usually gendered within heterosexual relationships, with young women mostly being the victims/survivors and young men the perpetrators of violence.1
Dating violence is a serious, important and prevalent public health problem in Australia.1 It is estimated to affect around one in four young women, although figures could be higher due to under-recognition, underreporting9,10 and inconsistencies in defining and measuring it.11,12 Dating violence is important to identify and manage in the health system due to its associations with poor short- and long-term physical and mental health2,13 and risk-taking behaviours2,14 and sometimes even death.15,16 Further, there is a longitudinal risk of IPAV in future relationships13,17 with potential intergenerational impacts on the wellbeing of young children.18 Thus, appropriately addressing dating violence may have an impact in reducing violence in future relationships.
Those experiencing dating violence will present to general practice in a variety of ways. Most will present with mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety or risk-taking behaviours. Some may present with physical health concerns such as chronic headaches or other somatic symptoms. The role of the GP is to be aware of the possibility of dating violence in a young person and provide ongoing health advice, support and referrals.
Technology-facilitated dating abuse, or digital dating abuse, includes the use of digital media to ‘monitor, control, threaten, harass, pressure, or coerce a dating partner’,19 although definitions and measurement of this type of abuse are not clear or consistent.20,21
Australians are among the highest users of technology in the world,22 and technology is deeply embedded in the day-to-day lives of young people’s sexual and romantic relationships.23 It is used to find romantic partners, to get to know each other, to initiate relationships and end them.8,23
Within this context, ‘sexting’ is a popular way of sharing intimacy. Although the definition of sexting is not very clear, it involves dating partners sharing mutually consented sexual photographs or videos with each other.24 However, sexting often falls within the realm of technology-facilitated abuse.
A qualitative Australian study found that young people aged 15–20 years felt pressure to use sexting with their partners, with young women facing more pressure to send sexual images of themselves compared with young men.25 Another Australian study found young women experienced technology-facilitated sexual coercion as part of a pattern of abusive technology behaviours, more often than young men.26 These findings are mirrored in American studies, which also found that young women experienced more technology-facilitated abuse when compared with young men27 and also suffered more negative and serious consequences as a result.19 Recent Australian studies showed gendered differences in the way young women and young men experience, perpetrate and are impacted by technology-facilitated abuse.26,28
Technology-facilitated abuse is an important form of abuse to be aware of and understand, as it can occur even when the couple are not physically with each other,27 which affects prevention and management. Recent evidence shows that not only dating violence, but also domestic and family violence, are perpetrated using technology.4,29 In a Queensland study, adult women reported extensive use of technology by perpetrators, including the use of smartphones, social media accounts, computers, GPS devices and recording devices, to control, isolate, monitor and harass them.4 An Australian qualitative study of frontline IPAV practitioners described technology as a powerful tool for gaining control, engaging others in abuse and amplifying victim/survivors’ levels of fear.29
Therefore, health practitioners need to be aware that while young and older women find technology to be a useful and covert means of seeking help for IPAV,30,31 this may be hampered by technology-facilitated abuse. Perpetrators’ close monitoring of a woman’s use of the internet and sometimes even destroying her technological devices4 may get in the way of her seeking help and staying in touch with family and friends. This is important for the health practitioner to understand and take into consideration when suggesting avenues to young and older women to seek help and support for dating or family violence. Thus, apart from referring the woman to websites and apps for support and help, traditional methods of seeking help and support must also be offered.
The use of technology-facilitated abuse against children in the context of child pornography or otherwise is not included here but there is further guidance in Chapter 9: Child abuse and neglect.