Researchers from Boston Medical Center have released some eye-opening findings: More than half of teenagers and young adults being treated in an urban emergency room admitted to either being the victim of interpartner violence or the perpetrator of this type of violence. Most of the participants in the study were African-American, living at or below the poverty line and were on government-funded health care such as Medicaid.
Reuters Health reported that most of the teens were being treated for factors linked to domestic violence: unplanned pregnancies, drug addiction and mental health issues. All were also chosen for the study because they either were or had been involved in romantic relationships. The 327 young people who participated, aged 13 to 21, were asked questions about violence. From those interviews, researchers found the following:
• About 55 percent of the participants said they had been the victim of physical or sexual violence.
• Fifty-nine percent said they had committed violence against their partner, with girls having a somewhat higher rate.
• Even though more girls had reported inflicting violence on their partner, 16 percent of all girls said they were seriously afraid of being physically hurt as a result of dating violence, while only 3 percent of boys feared injuries.
"The violence that is perpetrated on girls is much more severe," Dr. Brian Wagers, an emergency medicine doctor who studies dating violence at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, told Reuters Health. "The injuries sustained on girls are much more severe, much more frequent."
What's incredibly disturbing was that a mere 4 out of 174 people who admitted to abuse sought help from the resources offered by health care providers within a month of seeking treatment in the ER. And two-thirds of the participants who didn't take advantage of the resources offered said they believed they didn't need help with their abusive relationships.
Dr. Bronwen Carroll, the study’s lead researcher, told Reuters Health, "What they said was that they didn't perceive themselves as having problems that need help, and that's really concerning. (That) speaks to how common this is, and I fear that there may be some degree of normalization and they may not realize what a healthy relationship looks like."
Carroll hopes that this data will encourage not just doctors, but also parents and teachers to begin to have honest and open discussions about what teen violence is and the importance of seeking help.
It’s important to note that this study does not say that Black teens are more violent than their white counterparts — it just happens that the study took place in a hospital with a high number of African-American patients. Because of the various selection factors, it is difficult to extrapolate the findings to larger groups. But it has to be recognized that relationship violence is not a new concept when it comes to the Black community. According to statistics from the American Bar Association's Committee on Domestic Violence:
• African-American women experience significantly more domestic violence than White women in the age group of 20 to 24. Generally, Black women experience similar levels of intimate partner victimization in all other age categories, but experience slightly more domestic violence.
• Approximately 40 percent of Black women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18; the number-one killer of African-American women ages 15 to 34 is homicide at the hands of a current or former intimate partner.
To learn more about domestic violence in the African-American community, please visit the University of Minnesota's Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community's website.
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