Most young people have at some point inflicted offline or online violence on their partners

According to a study by the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), the prevalence of violence in intimate partner relationships among 17- to 24-year-olds is high and is exercised differently in person or online

  • Research

First publication date: 21/06/2024

Joana Jaureguizar
Joana Jaureguizar, doctor in Psychology from the Faculty of Education of Bilbao. | Photo: Fernando Gómez. UPV/EHU.

Joana Jaureguizar has analysed and compared dating violence taking place in young couples, both in social networks and in person, and has concluded that both types of violence display different characteristics. In both cases, there is a high prevalence rate of violence in couples formed by 17- to 24- year-olds: the majority of research participants acknowledged that they have been perpetrators and/or victims at some point in time.

The PSIDES research group of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) is dedicated to researching online dating violence in young couples. The aim is to gain a better understanding of this recent phenomenon so that appropriate prevention strategies can be designed. In this context, they have just analysed the behaviour of 341 UPV/EHU students aged between 17 and 24.  The students were asked about offline and virtual violence. The extent of each type of violence and the way in which it is carried out were analysed so that they could be compared. Researcher Jaureguizar said that her hypothesis had been confirmed: “We suspected that the partner violence perpetrated in networks does not follow the same patterns exactly and, according to the research, we were right. The figures we found, the types of behaviour, the psychological profiles of perpetrators and victims... are different.”

Firstly, they measured the degree of violence between partners. In face-to-face relationships, 80.4% of young people admitted to having behaved violently towards their partners, while in exchanges taking place on social networks, 55% said they had acted as aggressors. Secondly, when asked whether they had been victims, 73.3% said they had been victims offline, and 51.6% online. In Jaureguizar’s view the data are shocking: “The prevalence of violence in young couples is higher offline, yet in both cases the results are horrifying. You also have to bear in mind that in questionnaires of this type people do not usually tell the whole truth, so the actual data may be higher and the situation may be even more worrying.”

The PSIDES group also analysed the type of violence perpetrated against a partner and came to the conclusion that behaviours are not the same inside and outside the networks. In face-to-face relationships, verbal and emotional aggression predominates (insults, humiliation, looking for ways to make people jealous, etc.). In networks, by contrast, control is the prevailing violent behaviour (asking for the geolocation of the partner when they are with friends, demanding explanations because they fail to respond to messages sent to their mobile phones, etc.). “What is worrying in this case is that many young people do not believe that control is violence. They question it and don't realise that there is a real risk of progressing from this type of aggression to more violent acts,” said Jaureguizar.

In this respect, the researcher wanted to underline the fact that, although the use of physical violence is not so frequent, the percentage is significant. Indeed, 11% of the young people who took part in the research acknowledged that they had used it at some point.

Different psychological profiles

Finally, the researchers explored whether young people who perpetrate and experience intimate partner violence have the same characteristics online and offline. Differences were found in their psychological profiles, especially in the roles of the victims. Regarding victims of face-to-face dating violence, low self-esteem is a significant feature. For those who have experienced cyber-violence, however, it is not so obvious. The authors of the study say that one of the underlying reasons may be that face-to-face violence tends to be more brutal.

By contrast, from the point of view of emotional regulation, victims of online dating violence have displayed greater difficulties. “Compared with those who have experienced offline violence, they are less able to halt negative emotional states and prolong the positive ones.  Why might that be? Perhaps because cyber-violence occurs any time, anywhere. That is why it is more difficult to put an end to it. And so the lack of ability to regulate emotions is constant,” explained Jaureguizar.

Additional information

Joana Jaureguizar holds a PhD in Psychology. She lectures at the Faculty of Education - Bilbao, specifically, in the Department of Evolutionary Psychology and Education. She is also in charge of the Master's degree in Psychodidactics: Educational Psychology and Specific Didactics and leader of the PSIDES research group.

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