Dating violence is the most common form of violence experienced by college students. Recent literature explores individual environmental factors, such as stress and childhood trauma, leading to such violence, but little is known about how these factors interact to explain dating violence. This paper explores General Strain Theory in combination with Social Learning Theory to examine how together, these theories more precisely explain the higher rates of dating violence experienced on college campuses. Previous research has found support for the theories individually. Experiencing childhood abuse and poor coping skills associated with academic and life strains have been found to be the greatest risk factor for dating violence victimization. Research suggests that teaching coping techniques, stress and anger management skills, as well as re-teaching socially acceptable peer interactions need to be included in a successful program to make college campuses safer for female students.
strain, learning, dating, victimization, student, college
Dating violence on college campuses has been on the rise in recent years. According to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence statistics, approximately 53% of college students experience some form of dating violence, by either a current or former partner, while attending college. Social Learning Theory states that violent behaviors are learned from the groups an individual associates with. Grover, Jennings, Tomsich, Park, and Rennison (2011) found the largest predictor of dating violence was experiencing childhood abuse. General Strain Theory suggests negative emotions, such as anger or depression, associated with not achieving a positively valued goal will lead an individual to violence. Mason and Smithey (2012) found the longer partners spent in a relationship combined with life and academic stress to be the greatest predictor of dating violence. Previous studies have either lacked diversity in the sample or have chosen sample groups with completely different attitudes towards dating violence and childhood abuse. In both cases the findings are not generalizable to the greater population. Promising intervention and prevention programs will need to address General Strain Theory by teaching individuals proper coping techniques as well as stress and anger management skills. In combination with strain, the program needs to address Social Learning Theory by teaching the individual socially accepted methods of coping with prior childhood abuse by providing a mentor who will introduce the individual to new peer groups that place a negative value on violence.
First, a brief discussion of college dating violence will be provided, including risk factors, statistics supporting prevalence, and health and education costs. The next section will document why General Strain Theory and Social Learning Theory provide a more comprehensive explanation of this violence. A proposal will then be offered for more effectively studying these theories in conjunction with college dating violence. Lastly, an innovative program to combat college dating violence will be presented.
Dating violence has gained heightened awareness during recent years. The National Center for Victims of crime defines dating violence as any controlling, abusive, and aggressive behavior in a romantic relationship. Violence can be psychological, physical, sexual, or emotional, but usually includes acts from all categories in varying degrees. According to The National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCADV), women between the ages of 16 and 24 are at the highest risk of becoming victims of dating violence. A total of 21% of all college women report experiencing dating violence by a current partner and 32% report dating violence by a previous partner. Around 13% of college women report being the victims of stalking, of which 42% report being stalked by a current or former boyfriend. Studies performed by the NCADV show that as the seriousness and length of the relationship increases, the potential for violence also increases.
The highest rates of dating violence are acquaintance rapes. The National Center for the Victims of Crime (NCVC) shows approximately 60% of college women report being raped while in a casual or steady dating relationship. The statistic is confirmed by approximately 51% of college males admitting to coercing a woman to have sex against their will at least once during their relationship. NCVC statistics show that 12% of completed rapes, 35% of attempted rapes, and 22% of threatened rapes occur on dates. These types of rapes are usually perpetrated with the help of predator drugs such as Rohypnol, Ketamine, or GHB (Weiss, 2008). Predator drugs make it almost impossible for the victim to remember what happened so they are less likely to report or press charges against the perpetrator.
Keeping college students safe can be challenging due to risk factors specific to the college demographic. As a group, college students are young and experiencing life away from home for the first time. Young people tend to have a mistaken belief that they are invulnerable and this belief tends to make them the most vulnerable (Roark, 1987). Without direct parental contact, the student is free to experiment with risky behaviors such as drinking, drugs, or promiscuity. Being in a new environment with little or no support system and living among others in the same situation creates a population at higher risk for dating violence and victimization.
Ethnicity and socioeconomic status show little relevance in victimization (Smith, White, & Holland, 2003; Roark, 1987), but individual risk factors are present. Smith, White, and Holland (2003) determined the greatest predictor of dating violence among college women was being victimized as an adolescent. A total of 42% of college victims were threatened with physical harm and 13% were physically assaulted with a dangerous weapon while in high school.
The prevalence of dating violence experienced by college students is under reported, according to NCADV. Roark (1987) describes college campuses as jurisdictions to themselves where first responders are often Campus Police Officers. City municipal police are called in to handle only the most serious of violent offenses. This practice allows incidents of dating violence to be isolated, hidden, or even denied. Many reports are often denied by professors who are afraid their job may be affected or believe the facts are distorted, misrepresented, or false (Roark, 1987), allowing the offender to remain hidden and continue the behavior without fear of punishment. Students often don’t report victimization due to fears of escalating abuse or retaliation, embarrassment, self-blame, or feeling as if nothing can be done to resolve the situation, leading victims to suffer in silence. Peugh and Glauber (2011) found that 38% of students don’t know how to get help for themselves, and 58% of students don’t know how to help a friend known to be a victim of dating violence.