Measuring Context in Teen Dating Violence Research: The ‘How’ and the ‘Why’


Understanding context is important to the research community but is also important for law enforcement, who may be tasked with investigating cases of teen dating violence. With funding from the Office on Violence Against Women (Grant No. 2007-TA-AX-K024), Break the Cycle published a guide for law enforcement officers who work with teen victims of dating violence. One of the key points in the guide is, “Do NOT make a dual arrest -- arresting both is ineffective and dangerous. In most cases, one party is using violence, coercion and intimidation while the other is reacting to the violence. Arresting a victim only serves to re-victimize them, causing distrust and alienation, especially among youth who may already be distrustful of adult authorities.” In other words, it is crucial for law enforcement officers to understand the context of the violence: who engaged in the behavior first, what was their motivation for the behavior (e.g., self-defense), and how this incident may fit in with a pattern of power and control in that relationship. Without being aware of context, law enforcement officers may conclude that both parties are using violence. Better measurement and a fuller understanding of dating violence will help law enforcement to ensure safety for those who need it most.


Researchers and practitioners need better options for measurement in the form of accessible and contextual measures of teen dating violence. Due to the widespread and increasing use of digital media among teens, measures must also take into account dating violence that occurs through the use of social media and mobile phones-- a form of dating violence we call “digital dating abuse” (Futures Without Violence, 2009; Reed, Tolman, & Ward, 2016). This project aims to present researchers and practitioners with further evidence of the importance of measuring context in dating violence and provide a novel measure of digital dating abuse that addresses the gendered motivation, experience, and consequences of digital dating abuse behaviors.

Associated faculty

Lauren Reed

Lauren Reed Ph.D, Principal Investigator

Dr. Lauren Reed is an assistant professor of Social Work at ASU. She completed her Ph.D. in social work and developmental psychology at the University of Michigan and did her postdoctoral training at the University of California Santa Barbara in the Center for School-Based Youth Development. Dr. Reed has worked with adolescent and adult survivors of dating and domestic violence and has facilitated community-based youth-led programs to empower youth to end relationship violence and promote gender equality in their communities. She is passionate about teaching, mentoring, and the power of youth-led social change.

Rita Seabrook

Rita Seabrook, Co-Principal Investigator

Dr. Seabrook's research focuses on intimate partner violence. She is especially interested in masculinity and how the pressure to “be a man” (e.g., by having several sexual partners) contributes to sexual violence against women. Currently, she is working on projects related to fraternity membership and sexual violence perpetration, sexual violence among LGBTQ college students, and opioid misuse and intimate partner violence