A team of world-renowned cyberbullying researchers will expand their research to include a study of the prevalence and impact of teen electronic dating violence, a form of cyberbullying that is gaining increasing attention from the media and law enforcement.
A $188,776 grant from the Digital Trust Fund, formed by Facebook, will allow the researchers to gather for the first time national data from teens ages 12-17 about cyberbullying and digital forms of teen dating violence, said Dr. Justin Patchin, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.
"We are continuing our ongoing research in teen use and misuse of technology, but we also now are diving more deeply into an important subset of cyberbullying — teen electronic dating violence," Patchin said. "We're interested in how teens are using technology to stalk or engage in other aggressive behaviors in their dating relationships."
Electronic dating violence consists of various forms of abuse from insults and rumor spreading to threats of physical assault, Patchin said, noting that electronic dating violence differs from cyberbullying in that it typically involves two people who, on some level, are attracted to each other.
While sexting, revenge porn and other technology-related dating issues are capturing headlines and prompting discussions within legal circles, little research has been done to determine how technology is contributing to teen dating violence, the extent of the problems or the negative impact it has on teens, Patchin said.
"We want to see what's happening, and what impact it has on both the target and aggressor," Patchin said. "This research can help us understand behaviors as well as the negative outcomes on all teens involved that result from those behaviors."
For example, the data could help researchers determine whether a teen who is a target of electronic dating violence in one relationship is more likely to be an aggressor in their next relationship, said Patchin, who will conduct the research with his longtime research partner Dr. Sameer Hinduja, a professor at Florida Atlantic University.
A strength of the study is that it will involve a large nationally representative sample of youth, Patchin said, adding that most data currently being discussed relating to electronic dating violence come from small survey samples, often from students at a single school.
Patchin and Hinduja have been gathering data and studying teens' online behaviors for nearly 15 years, surveying more than 15,000 middle and high school youth from across the U.S. as part of nearly a dozen research projects. But their newest project marks the first time they will have the ability to collect data from a large nationally representative sample of youth.
The first-of-its-kind national data-collection project will help to illuminate the prevalence of all types of cyberbullying, including electronic dating violence, Patchin said.
Considering their past research projects and studies done by other researchers, Patchin said he estimates about one out of every four teens has experienced cyberbullying and about one out of every six teens has done it to others.
Patchin and Hinduja co-direct the Cyberbullying Research Center, an online information clearinghouse that provides reliable and updated research and best practices on cyberbullying.
Through the Cyberbullying Research Center, which now can be found at cyberbullying.org, the research team shares information with teens, parents, teachers, law enforcement and others with an interest in teen use and misuse of technology.
The online center attracts more than 8,000 unique visitors a day, Patchin said, noting that he and Hinduja field calls and respond to emails daily from people seeking information or advice related to cyberbullying.
Considered among the leading cyberbullying researchers in the world, Patchin and Hinduja regularly travel throughout the United States and the world to lead discussions and trainings on cyberbullying.
Patchin is regularly interviewed by top media outlets throughout the world about issues relating to cyberbullying, and has been invited to the White House and other prestigious venues and events to share his expertise.
In addition to providing advice and information to teens and others, Patchin also is giving UW-Eau Claire students hands-on research experience relating to cyberbullying, a topic of increasing interest worldwide.
"I feel it is important to expose undergraduate students to the social science research process and really value the assistance they provide in projects like this," Patchin said.
Shelby Maruszczak, a junior criminal justice major from Armstrong Creek, is working with Patchin on his newest research project.
She will spend time during the 2015-16 academic year reviewing existing literature and studies around the topic of electronic dating violence, and then will write a literature review to summarize her research.
"Participating in this research projects provides the opportunity to learn in-depth about a particular subject that interests me, Maruszczak said of her work with Patchin. "My participation in the cyberbullying research has allowed me to go beyond classroom content and learn about cyberbullying from a different perspective."
With a range of interests within the criminal justice field, Maruszczak has not yet determined a specific career path she hopes to pursue, though she knows graduate school is in her future.
Her work with Patchin in influencing her thinking about specific graduate schools and tracks within the criminal justice field, Maruszczak said.
"My participation in the cyberbullying research was originally meant to be a way to explore that branch of criminal justice," Maruszczak said. "As a result of the research, I realized that juvenile justice is a potential career path for me. The research will definitely play a role in my graduate school selection as well as what I plan to study."