CHESTERFIELD CO. – Over the past six years, Dr. James R. McDonell, of Clemson University’s Institute on Family and Neighbor Life has been surveying the teenagers in Chesterfield County middle schools and high schools and asked them about their experiences with dating violence. While there are different degrees of dating violence such as yelling, shoving and grabbing, or forcing to perform a sexual act, the survey concluded that 25 percent of Chesterfield County teenagers have experienced victimization.
At the Chesterfield County Coordinating Council (CCCC) meeting held August 13, McDonell spoke about the study, which began in 2003. “We surveyed 2,050 teenagers over six years,” said McDonnell. “During the first year we did a single item survey, asking the students if a dating partner had ever behaved toward them in a manner they believed violent. In the second year, additional survey items were added to more precisely measure acts of physical and psychological violence.”
The study revealed that when students were only asked if they believed they had been a victim of domestic violence, an average of 15 percent over the six-year period responded that they had. But, when more specific questions were asked to measure the degree of violence among the teens, the rate increased to an average of 25 percent. This percentage is representative of one in every four students, in sixth grade or older, having experienced dating violence.
Some of the other results of the survey revealed that one in five males are victims of dating violence, while one in 12 has perpetrated dating violence. One in four females are victims of dating violence, while one in five females has perpetrated dating violence.
Students from the Cheraw, Patrick, Chesterfield, Jefferson, Pageland and McBee attendance areas were surveyed about questions relating to tobacco and alcohol abuse and illicit drug use also. The findings from each of the surveyed areas were corollated with the questions of dating violence victimization and perpetration. Data confirmed that the use of drugs and alcohol plays both an active role in the problems among the teens and increased the incidence of domestic violence. However, less than 50 percent of the students that reported being involved with violence also reported using these substances. Even though drugs and alcohol use is related, it does not account for a majority of the incidences of dating violence.
The six-year study further revealed that:
n Alcohol use has increased from 29.2 percent of the students surveyed in 2003 to 36.8 percent in 2009
n Most significant increase in alcohol use is in girls under the age of 14.
n Tobacco use has decreased from 25.3 percent of the students surveyed in 2003 to 18.8 percent in 2009
n Illicit drug use has decreased from 14.4 percent of the students surveyed in 2003 to 10.8 percent in 2009
Dating violence has some significant consequences for teenagers and their well-being. Victims can have problems with depression, anxiety, and these problems can lead to health problems as well. Teenagers who are victims or perpetrators of dating violence now are at a greater risk for having the same problems later in life, unless something is done to break the cycle.
“It is essential that dating violence, substance use, and related risks become topics of public conversation. We have to help adults feel comfortable talking about this topic at home, in school, and at church,” said McDonell.
In Chesterfield County there are a number of programs that are available for both parents and teenagers to help promote healthy behaviors and lifestyles.
“The CCCC Youth Development Coalition will continue to use this data to raise awareness of the problems youth have in Chesterfield County. We want to help all people and organizations that are serving youth use this data to improve their programs, especially to prevent violence,” said Margaret Plettinger Mitchell, Director of the Chesterfield County Coordinating Council.
Mitchell added that the CCCC Youth Development Coalition hosts several public awareness activities each year about risky behaviors among teenagers, including violence, substance use, and teen sex. The Youth Development Coalition also has a library of resources to help both parents and organizations, some of these resources are provided by state and national level agencies through their Web sites.