HONOLULU — The lines defining victims and perpetrators of teen dating abuse may be less distinct than previously thought, according to new data released at an American Psychological Association meeting on Wednesday.
Researchers surveyed more than 1,000 teens nationwide and found that girls and boys reported abuse in roughly equal amounts. Of the surveyed teens, 41 percent of girls and 37 percent of boys said they had been abused in a dating relationship, while 35 percent of girls and 29 percent of boys said they had abused a partner, according to USA Today. But the two groups frequently overlap — 29 percent of girls and 24 percent of boys said they had both abused and been abused, sometimes within the same relationship.
Programs designed to aid those in abusive relationships should be careful when making assumptions that the roles of victim and perpetrator are distinct, researcher Michele Ybarra, of the Center for Innovative Public Health Research, told U.S. News and World Report in a statement.
"We need to think about the dynamics within relationships that may result in someone both perpetrating and being victimized by their partner; as well as the extent to which dating abuse may follow a teen from one relationship to another," Ybarra told U.S. News.
The survey, which took emotional, physical and sexual abuse into account, is somewhat at odds with other statistics, such as those gathered by the National Dating Abuse Helpline in 2012, which suggest that girls are overwhelmingly the victims of dating abuse. Just 6 percent of the helpline's callers are male.
However, Carlos Cuevas, another presenter at the APA conference, pointed out that when girl are the perpetrators, they typically lash out with name-calling and hitting. Boys, on the other hand, are much more likely to commit severe sexual and physical assaults.
Another presentation at the same conference also linked teen dating abuse to bullying in middle school. Those who bullied their peers were seven times more likely to abuse a partner in a high school relationship.
Researchers said the presentations highlighted the prevalence of abuse U.S. teens and the need to teach teens skills for developing and maintaining healthy relationships. However, they cautioned that without accurate measures of severity, it can be difficult to draw conclusions about abuse from self-reported surveys.
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