Prevalence, age of initiation, and patterns of co-occurrence of digital dating abuse behaviors nationwide

Child Youth Serv Rev. 2021 Mar:122:105921. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105921. Epub 2021 Jan 5.


Introduction: Little is known about the patterns of adolescent and young adult digital dating abuse (DDA) nationwide. This study characterizes (1) the lifetime prevalence, (2) the age of initiation, and (3) the patterns of co-occurrence of both using and experiencing DDA behaviors in dating relationships.

Methods: A cross-sectional online survey was conducted among a sample of 696 U.S. young adults recruited from Prolific, an online research platform. The sample was 50.7% female, 43.7% male, and 5.6% gender non-binary or transgender. The average age was 18.7 years (SD = 0.63, range: 16-22).

Results & conclusions: Among those with dating experience, 76.1% (n = 530) reported either using or experiencing at least one DDA behavior in their lifetime. Overall, 42.9% of respondents reported using and 58.3% experiencing digital monitoring and control behaviors, 25.0% reported using and 49.2% experiencing digital direct aggression, and 12.4% reported using and 36.4% experiencing digital sexual coercion. The average age of initiation for most DDA behaviors was 16 years with respondents reporting experiencing these behaviors at 11 years of age at the earliest. Of those with any involvement with DDA, 59.2% report both using at least one DDA behavior and experiencing at least one DDA behavior (n = 314), 32.5% report experiencing at least one DDA behavior but not using any (n = 172), and 8.3% report using at least one DDA behavior but not experiencing any (n = 44). DDA behaviors are common, can occur at young ages. Our findings highlight crossover between those who use and those who experience DDA behaviors and suggest prevention should focus on underlying issues that drive both the use and experience of these behaviors.

Keywords: dating violence; digital dating abuse; intimate partner violence.