SURVEY suggests 1 in 20 teen-age boys, 1 in 10 girls, suffer abuse on dates

Sunday, August 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ One in 10 girls and nearly one in 20 boys reported being raped or physically abused on dates, a broad survey of high school students found.

Researchers analyzing a 1998 survey of Minnesota ninth- and 12th-graders also found that the victims of both genders were much more likely than non-abused young people to report emotional problems including suicidal thoughts and eating disorders, and to have lower emotional well-being and self-esteem.

And with about 6 percent of the boys and girls reporting some type of date-related violence by ninth grade, the study shows the need to begin preventive efforts before high school, said the lead author, psychologist Diann Ackard.

Ackard, who's in private practice in Golden Valley, planned to present her findings Sunday at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco.

While previous studies had similar findings for girls, the work by Ackard and co-author Dianne Neumark-Sztainer of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health is unusual in examining the experiences of boys.

Ackard said the state-administered survey didn't ask about the boys' dates.

``So we don't know if it's boys dating boys, boys dating men, or girls being more forceful,'' she said.

Their study also is significant for the large size of its sample _ 81,247 kids.

The Minnesota group isn't perfectly representative of the United States in all its diversity, but the sample is big enough to allow for some generalizations for similar populations, Ackard said in an interview. She said previous studies she knew of had samples of between 2,000 and 5,000.

The work follows a study published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association that suggested one in five high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.

That study, by Jay Silverman of the Harvard University School of Public Health, was based on surveys of 4,163 public school students in Massachusetts.

Silverman said in an interview that the smaller proportion of girls reporting abuse in Ackard's study made sense. He noted that the Minnesota survey asked ``Have you ever been the victim of date rape?'' while the Massachusetts survey asked whether they had been ``forced into any sexual contact.''

``One in 10 girls identifying their experience as dating violence, identifying it as date rape, certainly should be concerning to people,'' Silverman said.

The findings highlight the need for professionals who work with adolescents to ask them the right questions about their dating experiences, about peer-to-peer violence, and to open up discussions about appropriate dating behavior and how young people should respond in such situations, Ackard said.

And parents need to talk with their children _ even before they start dating _ about how to protect themselves, such as by dating earlier in the day, double-dating with trusted friends and finding out more beforehand about the people they date, Ackard said.