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What is Dating Violence?  An Exploratory Study of Hispanic Adolescent Definitions

By Alisa Smith, Kristin Winokur & Joseph Palenski

This article explored Hispanic adolescents’ definitions of dating violence and examined factors such as the acceptance of dating violence, acculturation, victimization, peer support and sex that might impact those definitions. The study consisted of a survey administered to 182 high school students in a Northeastern school. Ninety-four percent of participants were Latinos.

  • Dating violence is a prevalent problem among Hispanic teenagers, yet it is under-reported because of adolescents’ definitions of what is normal or acceptable within a dating relationship.
  • Thirty percent of students defined dating violence in terms of physical or forced contact, 21% as forcing a date to do something, and 13% as rape or murder.  Only 18% included mental or verbal abuse in their definition of dating violence.
  • 16% of adolescents believed that verbal or physical abuse was acceptable in dating relationships.
  • Adolescents reported “approved violence” in instance of infidelity.  Boys believe that 44% of boys and 45% of girls thought that violence is justified when someone has been unfaithful.  
  • The level of acculturation and the definition of dating violence were associated with the amount of time Spanish was spoken.  Students who spoke mostly English or half Spanish/half English held more severe definitions (i.e. leaving physical wounds) of dating violence than those who spoke mostly Spanish.
  • Students with a prior victimization experience were more likely to define less severe behaviors as dating violence.
  • Girls defined dating violence in less severe terms than boys.  Female students were more likely than their male counterparts to describe dating violence in terms of mental and verbal abuse, harassment, or yelling.
  • The authors encourage further investigation into this issue, specifically on the impact of cultural norms and their role in adolescents’ understanding of the definition of dating violence.

Smith, A., Winokur, K., & Palenski, J. (2005).  “What is Dating Violence?  An Exploratory Study of Hispanic Adolescent Definitions.”  Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, 3(1/2), 1-20.

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All Rights Reserved. Last updated 12/13/07.