Press Releases

2001 Releases

Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls Linked with Teen Pregnancy, Suicide Attempts, and Other Health Risk Behaviors

For immediate release: July 31, 2001 

Boston, MA -- Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, the Boston University School of Public Health and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health have conducted the first large-scale study of the prevalence of physical and sexual violence by dating partners against adolescent girls.  The study also examined health risks, such as pregnancy and suicide attempts, associated with a history of such violence. The results, which appear in the August 1, 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest that approximately 1 in 5 girls experience physical or sexual dating violence, and that such girls are significantly more likely to engage in other behaviors that pose serious risks to their health.

Data from the 1997 and 1999 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Surveys were analyzed in the study. The surveys are administered to students in most states every two years in randomly selected public high school classrooms to track the incidence of behaviors that affect adolescent health. The researchers analyzed the responses of 1,977 adolescent girls in grades nine through twelve from the 1997 survey and of 2,186 girls from the 1999 survey. The 1997 Massachusetts survey was the first to assess lifetime prevalence of violence from dating partners. Also included in the survey were questions regarding substance abuse, sexual risk behavior, unhealthy weight control, pregnancy and suicidality. 

Data analyses also suggest that girls with a history of physical and sexual dating violence are significantly more likely to engage in substance abuse including binge drinking, cocaine use, and heavy smoking, and in unhealthy weight-control behaviors including the use of diet pills and laxatives. Risky sexual behavior such as engaging in sexual intercourse before age 15 and having multiple recent sexual partners was also found to be associated with dating violence. High school girls who were victims of violence from dating partners were also 4 to 6 times more likely than their non-abused peers to have been pregnant, and 8 to 9 times more likely to have attempted suicide during the previous year.

Jay Silverman, lead author of the study and an Assistant Professor of Health and Social Behavior and Director of Violence Prevention Programs at the Harvard School of Public Health's Division of Public Health Practice said of the study,  "The finding of such a high prevalence of dating violence against adolescent girls throws a spotlight on the need for all of us to do more to prevent and intervene in this violence to reduce both the immediate risks of injury to young women and the very serious risks to their health that may follow.  We need to increase our efforts to educate young girls about these dangers and how they can get help, and to discourage attitudes among both youth and adults that lead to acceptance of violence in relationships. But perhaps the greatest challenge facing us is understanding the root cause of the violence, why young men abuse the women they date.  Our ability to both understand how this behavior develops in young men and to create effective ways to alter these paths will be critical to stopping dating violence and improving the physical and emotional health of many young women."

The research was supported by grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the W.T. Grant Foundation.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman 
Office of Communications 
Harvard School of Public Health 
677 Huntington Avenue 
Boston, MA 02115 
Phone: 617-432-4752