The term courtship violence refers to a couple’s interaction with emotional commitment with or without sexual intimacy. Dating violence involves the perpetration or threat of an act of physical violence by at least one member of an unmarried couple on the other within the context of the dating process (Barnett, Miller-Perrin, Perrin 163).
The study of dating violence is important for two reasons. First, such behavior often results in physical and emotional injury. Second, there is reason to believe that dating violence is often a precursor to spousal abuse. Many battered women report that they were first assaulted by their husbands during courtship (Simons 467).
Women, more than men, appear to bear the brunt of courtship violence. Despite the fact that rates of partner abuse by males and females are similar, women report more injuries and a greater negative impact as a result of their male partners’ physical aggression (Ronfeldt 72). Studies consistently show that it is women who are disproportionately likely to sustain serious injury. Some significant negative consequences are emotional harm, feelings of victimization, and fear of further violence (Barnett, Miller-Perrin, Perrin 164).
The most popular explanation for dating violence is that it is a learned behavior acquired in the family origin. Witnessing parents’ marital aggression or being the victim of harsh corporal punishment may greatly increase the chances that a child will grow up to use violence in a dating relationship (Simons 468).
There is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that violence in the family is a risk factor for the perpetration of partner abuse. Men who witnessed interparental violence were three times more likely to hit their wives than men who did not (Ronfeldt 72). Men who witnessed their fathers hitting their mothers were more likely to approve of violence against women and to abuse their own partner. Those growing up in a violent home were more likely to move from verbal to physical aggression. Witnessing paternal marital violence would moderate the association between psychologically controlling behaviors and physical violence so that the association would be stronger for individuals who had witnessed paternal marital violence (Ronfeldt 73).
Researchers usually specify observational learning as the process whereby parents influence the probability that their children will be violent in intimate relationships. Some describe the learning process as one of imitation; others emphasize lessons about the legitimacy of violence in intimate relationships. The imitation explanation asserts that children learn about romantic relationships by observing interactions between their parents (Simons 468).
Childhood exposure to family violence, whether marital violence or harsh parenting, is seen as providing lessons that facilitate aggression toward romantic partners. Exposure to any form of family violence is seen as promoting attitudes that increase the probability that children will grow up to behave aggressively toward a romantic partner. This legitimization perspective suggests that young adults who were exposed to corporal punishment, ( and not simply those who witnessed interparental violence), are at risk for engaging in dating violence (Simons 468).
Criminological literature suggests an alternative avenue whereby parents might increase the probability that their children will engage in aggression toward romantic partners. Studies by criminologists have shown that deviant acts tend to be correlated. Individuals who engage in one type of deviant behavior tend to participate in other types, as well (Simons 469).
There is also evidence that antisocial behavior is stable over a life course. Those with high levels of antisocial behavior at an early age are at risk for chronic delinquency during adolescence and continue reckless and irresponsible behavior during adulthood. Antisocial behavior shows the characteristics of a behavior trait, a pattern of behavior that is expressed across time and situations. Dating violence is likely to be an expression of a more general antisocial pattern of behavior. It indicates that persons who engage in persistent aggression toward dating partners are likely to have a history of involvement in a variety of other antisocial behaviors (Simons 469).
Criminological research suggests that antisocial tendencies tend to emerge in childhood. A number of studies indicate that children are at risk for developing an antisocial pattern of behavior when they are exposed to ineffective parenting practices such as low supervision, rejection, and inconsistent discipline (Simons 469).
Parents will engage in ineffective parenting if they have antisocial tendencies like excessive drinking, erratic work records, altercations with peers. These antisocial tendencies often include domestic violence. Antisocial parents are likely to hit each other and their children and to engage in ineffective parenting. This ineffective parenting increases the probability that their children will grow up to engage in antisocial behavior of all sorts. It is a general pattern of antisocial behavior, not specific lessons regarding dating or family violence, that is transmitted across generations in violent families (Simons 470).
Unfortunately, there has been little effort to apply this criminological perspective to dating violence. Growing up in a violent family indirectly increases the probability of dating violence by promoting a generally aggressive orientation toward people (Simons 470).
Although some studies have reported that childhood exposure to violence between parents increases the probability of dating aggression others have failed to find an association (Simons 468).
The imitation argument proposes that dating violence is a learned response to witnessing interparental violence and that the legitimization perspective shows that dating violence is legitimized either by witnessing interparental violence or by exposure to corporal punishment (Simons 468). Observational learning, as it is described in social learning theory, seems to suggest that corporal punishment increases the chances of dating violence, but witnessing interparental violence has little, if any, impact on the probability of dating violence (Simons 469).
Some variables such as patriarchy, peer support, and proviolent attitudes of peers maybe related to courtship violence. Some dating women, like married women, remain in a violent relationship because they love their partner and believe that they can change him or save the relationship (Barnett, Miller-Perrin, Perrin 181).
Consequently, identifying potential determinants of dating violence is important in order to inform efforts to decrease its occurrence and prevent the future occurrence and deleterious effects of violence in intimate relationships (Ronfeldt 70).
Barnett, Ola, ; Miller-Perrin, Cindy, ; Perrin, Robin., Family Violence Across the
Lifespan. California: Sage, 1997
Ronfeldt, Heidi., “Satisfaction with Relationship Power and the Perpetration of Dating
Violence.” Journal of Marriage and the Family. 60 (February 1998): 70-78
Simons, Ronald., “Socialization in the Family of Origin and the Male Dating Violence:
A Prospective Study.” Journal of Marriage and the Family. 60 (May 1998): 467-478