From the myth of romantic love to gender violence: new forms of abuse in adolescent couples


Adolescence is the stage of the life cycle in which the couple becomes one of the fundamental socialization and support figures. When based on reciprocity, companionship, equality and affection, they are a source of benefits for psychosocial development. But when these love relationships are based on violence, they have serious consequences for mental health and are a predictor of violence within couple relationships in adulthood.

The national and international prevalence figures for this type of violence are worrying. For example, the percentages in studies carried out in Spain and Colombia confirm figures of around 90% in intimate partner violence in adolescence. The data indicates that these high figures correspond to verbal-emotional violence, of low severity and two-way .

In fact, some studies highlight that the lack of experience that adolescents have on how to express love to their partner leads to the use of courtship dynamics related to violence. In this way, they often use aggressive dynamics based on belittlement, threats and control as signs of love.

Transfer to the virtual sphere

The use of information and communication technologies among adolescent couples has multiple advantages that directly affect the emotionality and well-being of the minor: they allow couples to be in constant communication, obtain support and emotional support, and get to know each other better (expressing their likes, finding connections, sharing stories and experiences, or even revealing fantasies).

But unfortunately, technologies have also increased criminal opportunities among adolescent couples. Electronic devices make it possible to transfer the violence exercised in a traditional way within dating relationships to the digital sphere.

Intimate partner cyber violence

Despite the fact that there is no single definition, cyber-partner violence refers to all those behaviors of control and aggression that adolescents exercise towards their partners through the Internet and social networks. Current data show the existence of a higher prevalence of cybercontrol behaviors compared to cyberaggression behaviors in minors between 12 and 17 years of age.

Current data show the existence of a higher prevalence of cybercontrol behaviors compared to cyberaggression behaviors in minors between 12 and 17 years of age.

This may be related to the high numbers of verbal-emotional violence in the physical world discussed above. Therefore, the expression of love towards the couple in the virtual world is established through two-way control dynamics, in which the girls are the most victimized .

The very characteristics of the digital world give the aggressor advantages to inflict more damage on his victim. The networks allow the use of anonymity and extend the attacks ad infinitum, reflecting the power and impunity of the aggressor over the victim. The abuser can humiliate and threaten his partner privately or publicly 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All this means that the victim of these attacks does not know how to escape and her feelings of helplessness multiply.

Toxic relationships

Young people who relate to a couple based on these control dynamics may confuse dependency, jealousy and the need for control with a show of affection and concern for their partner . In the long term, toxic relationships cause a change in the communication style of the members and electronic devices are used as a means of controlling and monitoring the couple. These harmful actions range from threats and insults to the dissemination of secrets or intimate content through the network, cyber control and even the theft and use of passwords.

For the adolescents who exercise or support them, these behaviors are considered a proof of love, which is why they are unable to identify them as dangerous. In fact, recent studies show that a large part of adolescents normalize these abusive behaviors as another way of relating to their partner.

It should be borne in mind that whoever is a victim of violence in the real world is often also a victim in the virtual world. This continuum can be devastating.

Romantic love

Often the idea of ​​love in adolescence is related to the myths of romantic love. The ideas that love is synonymous with suffering, and that control and jealousy are a show of love are widespread. They are the ones that lead to tolerating in couple relationships those moderate and bidirectional behaviors related to control and verbal-emotional violence on the internet and in real life.

Research also shows a relationship between intimate partner violence and a lack of personal and social resources to resolve conflicts: self- esteem , empathy , and assertiveness are inversely related to violence.

Stereotypes and gender violence

Knowing in depth the factors that trigger these first signs of violence and intervening on them can help us prevent gender violence , since girls are the most victimized and youthful relationships continue to be impregnated by gender stereotypes.

In fact, the data on sexual violence already in adolescence have differences based on sex .

Prevention mechanisms

Partner violence prevention programs and strategies, both online and in person, must have five main lines of action.

  1. Raise awareness and sensitize towards all forms of violence , both online and in person. For this, activities must be created in schools and institutes that make visible all existing forms of violence. This awareness should extend to the family environment.
  2. Promote social skills and personal resources such as self-esteem, empathy and assertiveness. In educational centers, the teaching of specific social skills that promote positive conflict resolution should be introduced, always away from violence and aggressiveness.
  3. Promote beliefs that are far from gender stereotypes. From this perspective, gender stereotypes must be worked on so that students know how to detect them and can contrast them with others based on tolerance towards diversity and gender equality.
  4. Work the myths of romantic love. In addition to sexist beliefs, myths of romantic love related to the omnipotence of love, the better half, control as a form of love, and exclusivity must be specifically addressed.
  5. Promote responsible use of the internet and social networks.

The collaboration of schools together with optimal affective-sexual education is one of the prevention methods that should be promoted to eradicate intimate partner violence in adolescents.

Author Bios: Laura Carrascosa Iranzo is Coordinator of the Master’s Degree in Criminology: Crime and Victimology and Begona Iranzo is also at the International University of Valencia