Boston Surveys Youths On Teen Dating Violence

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A survey conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission on the dating violence incident involving pop music idols Chris Brown and Rihanna revealed that nearly half of Boston youths surveyed said she was “responsible” for what happened while 52 percent said they were both to blame.

“The story of Chris Brown and Rihanna may have happened 3,000 miles away, but it is very much a Boston story,” said Casey Corcoran, director of the Public Health Commission’s new Start Strong program.

The incident, the most high-profile youth dating violence case in memory, has drawn national headlines, even prompting Oprah to devote an entire show, to teen dating violence.

Oprah will feature the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships Initiative. Last November, the Boston Public Health Commission received one of the foundation’s $1 million, four-year grants to launch a Boston-based Start Strong effort to prevent and reduce teen dating violence, as part of the nationwide initiative. The goal is to stop teen dating abuse before it starts, specifically focusing on teaching 11 to 14-year olds about healthy relationships. This includes ensuring that parents, teachers, coaches, older siblings, peers, school nurses, and mentors know what to say to teens and that relationship violence is unacceptable, Corcoran said.

Corcoran’s program, housed in the Commission’s Division of Violence Prevention, surveyed 200 Boston youth ages 12 to 19, between Feb. 13 and 20, using the Chris Brown-Rihanna case to gauge their attitudes toward teen dating violence; 100 percent of those surveyed had heard about the incident.

Among the findings:

* 71% said arguing was a normal part of a relationship


* 44% said fighting was a normal part of a relationship

* 51% said Chris Brown was responsible for the incident

* 46% said Rihanna was responsible for the incident

* 52% said both individuals were to blame for the incident, despite knowing at the time that Rihanna had been beaten badly enough to require hospital treatment

* 35% said the media were treating Rihanna unfairly

* 52% said the media were treating Chris Brown unfairly

In addition, a significant number of males and females in the survey said Rihanna was destroying Chris Brown’s career, and females were no less likely than males to come to Rihanna’s defense.

“Boston parents need to be aware that our children are facing a crisis,” said Emily F. Rothman, assistant professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, and an advisor to the Boston Start Strong initiative. “Ten percent of Massachusetts youth report having experienced dating violence during their lifetimes. The consequences of dating violence can be severe and long-lasting. Teen dating violence victimization can be a precursor to adult violence victimization, and can increase risky behaviors during adolescence, including substance use, unhealthy dieting and weight control practices, and suicidal behavior,” she said.

Corcoran suggested that parents use the Chris Brown-Rihanna incident as an opportunity to ask their children for their opinions about what happened, and to share their own viewpoints. “The case provides all of us with an opportunity to have this conversation with the young people in our lives, and it should serve as a reminder that no one---not even the rich and famous---are immune to abuse.”