Teenager looking worried at tablet

Adolescents Aren’t Safe From Dating Violence

A troubling number of 11-to-18-year-olds are subject to dating violence, with dangerous long-term effects. How can communities help?


Intimate partner violence can, and does, happen at any age. Over three million people have reported experiencing it in the past five years, including a shocking number of teenagers.

Adolescent dating violence (ADV) includes physical, sexual and/or psychological violence in 11–to-18-year-olds, either in-person or online. Sadly, those exposed as teens are more likely to experience dating violence as adults, and have long-term mental health and substance use challenges.

ADV incidents are rarely reported to the police, so relatively little is known about rates across Canada. But now researchers have published the first nationally representative data on the topic of adolescent dating violence.

Drawing on data from the 2017/2018 Health-Behavior in School-Aged Children (HBSC) dataset, researchers looked specifically at 14- and 15-year-olds (grades 9 and 10) who reported dating violence in the past 12 months.

They found that one in three youth had experienced dating violence, and one in seven reported hurting others.

“Our findings confirmed what we suspected,” says Deinera Exner-Cortens, assistant professor in the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. “Over one in three youth experience adolescent dating violence, and ADV is a serious health problem. It’s important that we continue to develop and institute ADV prevention programs.”

Participants were asked if they’d been purposefully hurt by someone they were dating, either physically or emotionally. This included monitoring or controlling them on social media. Sadly, these are common experiences.

In youth who had dated during the 12-month period, 12% experienced physical aggression, 28% had been exposed to psychological aggression and 18% reported cyber aggression (via social media). Many also reported hurting others physically (7%), psychologically (9%), or online (8%).

The numbers were highest among non-binary individuals. Racialized youth, those living in poverty and newcomers to Canada also reported high rates of violence.

These numbers reinforce the need for helping Canadian youth build positive relationships. Valuable school programming includes social-emotional and healthy relationships learning, but the researchers stress the need for community-led support for those most at risk.

Organizations such as PREVNet, Canada’s Healthy Relationships Hub, are using research to promote healthy relationships, respect, social responsibility and citizenship in youth.

“Consultation with communities is essential to addressing violence where it happens,” says Exner-Cortens. “Current curriculum that includes social emotional education is a good start to preventing violence before it occurs. We’ve come a long way, but we also know we need annual data collection and more resources for marginalized groups.”

The researchers emphasize the need for annual data collection, particularly among those most at risk, to understand and prevent ongoing cycles of violence.

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Amy Noise is a science communicator who is fascinated by how and why the world works. Always learning, she is passionate about science and sharing it with the world to improve and protect our health, society and environment. Amy earned her BSc (biology and science communication) at the University of Manchester, and MSc (nutrition science and policy) at King’s College London, UK. She tweets sporadically @any_noise