Do boys face more dating violence than girls?

All of the Kavanaugh vs. Ford debate, whether the original incident happened as described or not, has once again reminded us that violence, both sexual and otherwise, doesn’t just happen among adults. High school children entering into the complications of the dating world can encounter violence as well. We generally tend to think of such incidents resulting in harm to young girls, but a recent study in Canada suggests that the numbers are more evenly spread out than I would have guessed. In fact, they’re reporting more incidents of boys suffering “dating violence” at the hands of girls than the reverse. (Though the margin of difference is minimal.) This report comes to us from Science Daily.

Overall, fewer teens are experiencing physical abuse from their dating partners, with five per cent of teens reporting dating violence in 2013, down from six per cent in 2003.

However, the researchers found 5.8 per cent of boys and 4.2 per cent of girls said they had experienced dating violence in the past year.

First author Catherine Shaffer, a PhD student from SFU who was involved in the study, says more research is needed to understand why boys are reporting more dating violence.

“It could be that it’s still socially acceptable for girls to hit or slap boys in dating relationships,” she said. “This has been found in studies of adolescents in other countries as well.”

Those numbers were a surprise to me. They’re also a bit different from studies done in the United States. A 2015 CDC study on teen dating violence found that among girls, 12% reported physical violence and 16% reported sexual violence from a dating partner. Among boys, the numbers were lower, with 7% reporting physical violence and 5% saying they had encountered sexual violence.

There are a couple of elements missing from these studies which we should be aware of. First of all, they don’t specify how many of the “dating partners” were of the opposite sex, so we can’t say for certain how many offenders are coming from each gender. We can safely assume that at least some of these instances took place among gay dating partners.

Second, we aren’t told the type or extent of the violence. Obviously, if you’ve been raped or beaten to the point where you’ve sustained injuries, you are the victim of violence. But how about if one partner is closing in hoping for a kiss and is physically shoved away with a push to the chest or shoulders? Is that violence? The list of possible examples goes on.

The linked article speculates that female on male dating violence may be more common than you thought because it has, for a long time, been accepted that girls will slap boys in the face if they come down with a case of wandering hands. I can remember that happening to me twice when I was younger. (And if we’re being honest here, I heartily deserved it both times. Particularly the one where it resulted from me trying to explain to a girl why I had asked her sister out on a date.) Women slapping men has been a staple of Hollywood for as long as there’s been film.

Perhaps that’s part of it. But it’s clear that teen dating violence is very real and needs to be addressed by parents. If your kid (of either gender) is out there beating up or sexually assaulting somebody they’re supposed to be on a date with, you have failed in your duties as a mother or father.