Prevalence, age of initiation, and patterns of co-occurrence of digital dating abuse behaviors nationwide

Prevalence, age of initiation, and patterns of co-occurrence of digital dating abuse behaviors nationwide

New HIPRC study shows most youth report using or experiencing digital dating abuse behavior.

By: Alexandra de Leon Date: February 10th, 2021
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Hannah Busing for Unsplash

Approximately 400,000 adolescents in the US experience some form of dating violence. As technology continues to grow, so does the presence of digital dating abuse (DDA) that uses digital media to harass, pressure, threaten, coerce, or monitor a dating partner.

Researchers at Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center (HIPRC), Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan have conducted a nationwide study of the patterns of adolescent and young adult digital dating abuse (DDA). The study was published January 5, 2021 in Children and Youth Services Review.

The collaborative team who completed this work include two post-doctoral fellows who specialize in interpersonal violence research, Avanti Adhia, ScD, Department of Pediatrics with the University of Washington School of Medicine and Vivian H. Lyons, PhD, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education with the University of Michigan, as well as senior faculty member Frederick Rivara, MD, MPH, Director of the Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program (FIPRP) and HIPRC core faculty. Lead author was researcher Alice Ellyson, PhD, with HIPRC and Department of Pediatrics with the University of Washington School of Medicine.

For the study, 696 young adults (ages 16-22) across the U.S. responded via online survey. Among those who have dated:

  • 76% reported using or experiencing at least one DDA behavior in their lifetime; participants reported using and experiencing these DDA behaviors on average around 16 years old
  • 58% reported experiencing digital monitoring and control
  • 49% reported experiencing direct digital aggression
  • 36% reported experiencing digital sexual coercion

“Our findings highlight the crossover between youth and young adults who use and those who experience digital dating abuse. We find a high proportion of those who both use and experience DDA behaviors. This is similar to prior findings of co-occurrence for other forms of violence including dating violence and bullying,” says Ellyson.

Researchers say interventions are needed to recognize DDA and to address the harms to both mental health and safety.

“Parents, teachers, and caregivers need to understand how commonly these behaviors occur and recognize the potential harms these behaviors have on peers and dating partners,” says Adhia.

This study highlights how common digital abuse is among youth in dating relationships, and how important it is to adapt prevention and interventions to changing technology and norms in dating relationships

“In addition, prevention efforts should focus on teaching kids as early as 10 years old healthy and safe communication skills while using the internet and their cellphone,” says Ellyson.


Funding for this work was provided by the University of Washington, Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine. This work was also supported by the National Institutes of Health (5R25HD094336-02) through the Pediatric Injury Prevention Student Internship (INSIGHT) Training Program. AA is supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1K99HD102567). VHL is supported by the FACTS (Firearm Safety Among Children & Teens) Consortium funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (1R24HD087149).

Some researchers in this study are part of HIPRC’s Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program. The group’s mission is to reduce the impact of firearm injury and death on people’s lives through interdisciplinary research and collaboration with institutional, community, and governmental partners.