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26 August 2001
10% Of Female Adolescents Suffer Date Violence/Rape
by George Atkinson

Nearly one in ten girls and one in twenty boys report experiencing violence and/or being raped on a date, according to a survey of 81,247 ninth and twelfth grade boys and girls in Minnesota public schools. Those who were victims of date violence and rape also reported having higher rates of disordered eating, suicidal thoughts and attempts and lower scores on measures of emotional well-being and self-esteem. Significant changes in mental health can be a signal to parents, health professionals and educators that abuse may be occurring in these adolescents' dating experiences, said the authors. These findings will be reported on at the American Psychological Association's (APA) 109th Annual Convention in San Francisco, CA.

Psychologist Diann M. Ackard, Ph.D., L.P., in private practice in Golden Valley, MN and public health nutritionist Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota used the 1998 Minnesota Student Survey to assess the health attitudes, behaviors and experiences of ninth and twelfth graders. Questions on date violence and rape, binge-eating behavior, self-esteem, emotional well-being, suicide and physical and sexual abuse by adults were included in the survey. Because of the large sample size, the study's findings can be generalized to similar populations in other parts of the United States.

The authors found that nearly nine percent of girls and six percent of boys reported some type of abusive date-related experience. Questions like, "Have you ever been the victim of violence on a date?" and "Have you ever been the victim of date rape?" were used to assess abuse. Adolescents who had abusive experiences, say the authors, are more likely to have disordered eating behaviors and poor psychological health. Experiencing both date violence and date rape leads to a higher risk of developing an eating disorder and other mental health problems than experiencing either date violence or date rape alone, according to the study.

Those experiencing both date violence and rape, said the authors, were more likely to have higher rates of binge-eating, fasting, taking diet pills, vomiting and taking laxatives over the past year than peers who had not experienced date violence or date rape. "Disordered eating behaviors may be a way for youth who have been abused to project the painful experience onto their body," explain the authors. "They punish their body for the abuse or try to manipulate their body into becoming 'unattractive' to others and hope to reduce the likelihood of repeated experiences."

Early intervention is critical to reducing the occurrence and consequences of date violence and rape, said the authors. "Approximately six percent of boys and girls had already experienced some type of date-related violence by ninth grade. Preventative efforts need to begin before high school. Parents, guardians, educators and youth leaders should discuss with adolescents appropriate dating interactions, safer dating situations and what to do in high-risk scenarios. These same adults need to be aware of abrupt changes in an adolescent's behavior that could be a signal of an abusive experience."

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