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Epstein-Ngo said more research is needed to determine if technology makes it easier to commit these acts of digital dating aggression or if those who do so are just more prone to these behaviors.
Now, University of Michigan research finds that technology-delivered dating aggression is associated with the environment in which some youth are growing up, and with the likelihood that these behaviors will lead to physical dating violence.
The study, "Technology-Delivered Dating Aggression: Risk and Promotive Factors and Patterns of Associations Across Violence Types Among High-Risk Youth," is online in the Violence and Gender Journal.
The research was conducted through the U-M School of Public Health Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education.
Technology-delivered dating aggression is exhibited in ways such as trying to control a partner's behavior, tracking his or her activities and location, delivering threats, spreading rumors or sharing explicit images of the partner without permission.
It goes beyond cyber aggression, which usually takes place online, to include harassing phone calls and texts.
"We found that technology-delivered dating aggression, or TDA, was prevalent among high-risk urban youth, and that it was highly associated with neighborhood violence exposure—for example, hearing gunshots, seeing drug deals, seeing someone get shot or stabbed.
It was also very strongly related to physical dating violence," said lead researcher Quyen Epstein-Ngo, a research assistant professor at the U-M Institute for Research on Women and Gender and a fellow with the U-M Injury Center.
"This study shows that TDA is related to physical dating aggression and may be a precursor to or a symptom of serious physical violence among dating partners.
Not everyone who committed TDA also perpetrated physical violence, but nearly everyone who perpetrated physical violence also committed TDA.
More research is needed to better understand this association." Epstein-Ngo and colleagues conducted surveys of 14-to-20-year-olds from two urban neighborhoods who had used a hospital emergency room in Flint, Mich.
Among the youth who completed the survey, 48 percent reported technology-delivered dating aggression, 44 percent experienced dating violence (either as aggressors or victims), 55 percent reported involvement with physical nondating violence and nearly 96 percent reported community violence exposure.