Texting and "sexting," sending sexually explicit messages via mobile phone, are firmly entrenched in the high school dating scene these days, but until now little solid data have existed on the extent to which these social media connections have been misused to control, harass, threaten, or stalk.
A study released Monday provides the first solid research into cyber-dating abuse, and the results are startling: Two in five teens surveyed had experienced cyber-dating abuse in the context of a dating relationship in the last three months.
Thirty percent of them said they were involved in sexting, and of that group, 33 percent of females reported being asked to text photographs of themselves; 18 percent of young men were asked to do so.
" 'Sexting' is the new norm," said Rebecca Dick, lead author of the study by Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. It appeared online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, but that activity is not considered cyber-dating abuse based on the scale that researchers use, she added.
"Texting abuse is something we don't know a lot about in the existing literature," said Dick, a clinical research coordinator at the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children's.
The study is the first clinically based look at cyber-dating abuse among young people who are using school-based health services, added senior investigator Elizabeth Miller, chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children's.
"What surprised me about this study was the extent to which cyber dating overlaps with sexual and physical violence in dating relationships and even outside of them," she said.
The research confirmed what previous studies have shown: Teens exposed to cyber-dating abuse were more likely to also experience physical and sexual dating abuse: being slapped, choked or forced to have sex.
The study of teens ages 14 to 19 was conducted at eight school-based health centers, all in California, during the 2012-13 school year.