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Digital Dating Violence

Often called the silent form of harassment, electronic bullying or digital harassment is the new generation of domestic violence.

Just days after National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention week (February 2 to 6), popular music celebrity Chris Brown (age 19) was charged with assaulting his girlfriend, Rihanna. This incident, while unfortunate, has sparked media frenzy on dating violence and domestic abuse.  Almost 1 in 10 high school students have been physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend, according to the Centre for Disease Control. 24 per cent of 14 to 17-year-olds know at least one student who has been the victim of dating violence and yet, more than 80 per cent of parents either believe teen dating violence is not an issue or didn’t know it was an issue. And the abuse has gone digital. Often called the silent form of harassment, electronic bullying or digital harassment is the new generation of domestic violence.


“Digital dating violence (DDV) is a huge, and mainly unaddressed, problem,” says Rick Gippert Jr., director of education and training at Rape Crisis Centre for Children and Adults. According to a study by Liz Clairbourne (2007) 1 in 3 teens has been text messaged 10 to 30 times an hour by a partner wanting to know where they are and what they are doing; and 1 in 4 has been called names, harassed or put down by their partner through cell phones or texting. 71 per cent say partners spreading rumors about them on cell phones and social networking sites is a serious problem. Since the majority of teenagers between the ages of 14 and 19 own a cellular phone or other mobile device, parents are unable to monitor their child’s phone use. It is this 24/7 accessibility that makes DDV more pervasive and easily hidden. Unfortunately, most teens don’t talk about it and even fewer report it. This is frightening since 98 per cent of teenage girls who have been abused continue to date their abuser. Fortunately, all cell phone calls, text messages and internet posts leave a digital trail. Like an electronic leash, abusers can be traced, caught and charged, by accessing cell phone records, internet service providers (via ISP address) or postings on personal web pages. Beyond legal proceedings after the abuse has occurred, the most effective strategies for reducing DDV include increased awareness and clear communication.


Regrettably, teenagers are unaware of what constitutes abuse and how to handle it. For victims, most are too embarrassed to admit they are being abused. Others fear they will lose their cell phone, mobile device, computer time or social networking site account if they report it. Therefore, it is imperative that parents educate themselves and pay attention to warning signs such as sudden personality changes, extreme mood swings or begging for forgiveness during a phone conversation. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to be the ‘bad’ guy by regularly reviewing their children’s cell phone records, internet browsing history or social networking site accounts. This clearly demonstrates a keen interest in the child’s safety and provides the child an excuse for not being available or receiving certain types of messages. Parents can also advocate for programming, within their child’s learning environment, that stresses the red flags of abuse, reinforces the basics of healthy dating relationships and encourages the setting of personal boundaries. If this type of programming is not available, parents and teens can find useful information and tools at sites such as;;;; and  


Sadly, numerous bloggers and forum posters blame Rihanna for the alleged attack while others suggest she is reconciling with Brown. Tabloid magazines have issued huge financial incentives for those who can provide proof of their reconciliation. With this bombardment of misconceptions and misinformation in popular media, it is crucial that parents, guardians and educators communicate with tweens and teens about all aspects of dating violence including digital harassment. 

Carmen writes frequently on education, parenting, pregnancy and consumer issues for a variety of publications and is a regular contributor to Calgary’s Child Magazine. A former educator, she is also a contributing author for Physics. You can reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..   

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