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CDC funds Wayne State University research to understand, prevent teen dating violence

September 13, 2012
Poco Kernsmith, Ph.D.
Joanne Smith-Darden, Ph.D.

DETROIT — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded Wayne State University’s School of Social Work a three-year, $1,049,223 grant for researching the factors that facilitate and discourage intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetration among middle school and high school youth.

Led by Poco Kernsmith, Ph.D., associate professor of social work, and Joanne Smith-Darden, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work at WSU, in collaboration with Roger Kernsmith, Ph.D., professor of sociology, anthropology and criminology at Eastern Michigan University, the study will follow two cohorts of students from Detroit metropolitan area middle schools and high schools. Participating students will be surveyed in each of three years, starting with their sixth and tenth grade of school, respectively. Researchers will explore modifiable risk and protective factors — including the complex interrelationships of individual, relational, school, community and societal processes — that lead to healthy and as well as violent behaviors, such as stalking and physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Research has shown that between 9 and 30 percent of high school students experience IPV. According to Poco Kernsmith, the three-year research project is innovative in several ways. First, it will examine IPV through a “gender-sensitive” lens that is largely absent from similar studies on IPV, and which considers differences in the context and precursors to IPV perpetration by males and females. Next, the study is responsive to the changing nature of relationships, in which lines between friendships, dating and committed relationships are blurred. Finally, given reports that one in four teens has been the victim of technologically facilitated abuse, the research will consider how technology and social media provide both opportunities and challenges for the development of healthy relationships.

Poco Kernsmith said the study should help inform IPV prevention and intervention protocols as well as school policies.

“Youth are forming attitudes and developing behaviors that they will carry into adulthood,” Poco Kernsmith said. “By learning about the supports in the family, school and community that reduce the risk for violent and abusive behaviors at a young age, we can prevent violence across the life span.”

The CDC grant number for this award is 1 U01 CE002115-01.

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.