The victims of intimate partner homicides among young Americans are almost all female, according to a new report published last month in JAMA Pediatrics. A whopping 90 percent of all minors killed by their current or former intimate partners were girls, data that compels public officials to find ways to disrupt this deadly pattern in the relationships that might otherwise seem like a place for youth to experience innocuous, young love.
“While the dynamics of these relationships may be quite different than among adults, this is a public health issue we need to take seriously,” lead researcher Avanti Adhia told the New York Times this week. Based on data culled from state homicide databases between 2003 and 2016, the researchers found that a majority of young homicide victims were killed in gun violence — over 80 percent. Similarly, adult women killed in intimate partner violence are most often killed with a firearm.
A driving motivation behind the murders of these girls, who on average had not yet turned 17, is the jealousy or hurt feelings of their former or current partners; it’s worth noting that over 60 percent were still in a relationship with their killer. The murderers, on average, were a few years older — about 21 years old. Jealousy and breakups accounting for over a quarter of these homicides, while a little less than a quarter were initiated by an argument between partners.
The JAMA report did not include demographic information of the victims, but according to data from the CDC, young people of color and sexual minority groups are disproportionately affected by dating violence, putting them especially at risk for developing depressive and anxiety disorders, substance abuse issues, and violent or destructive behavior to the people around them. They also are more at risk for having suicidal thoughts.
Researchers are trying to hone in on why intimate partner violence flourishes in adolescent relationships in order to draw up effective action plans to curb abuse and homicides. The authors of the study suggested that a family history of abuse or dysfunction is a major intimate partner homicide risk factor, but also considered the influence of developmental factors that may drive violent behavior. What the researchers do know right now though is that the presence of what they refer to as “safe adults” is one way to reduce adolescents’ risk of being victims or perpetrators of intimate partner violence. “Safe relationships with adults buffer from stressors,” they advised the Times. “The more, the better.”