“It seems that you don’t love me anymore”: WhatsApp violence in teenage couples is common and less serious for them | Technology
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“In the end, I will have to stay home because of you.” “Why haven’t you answered me?” “Do you know where it is? I have been writing to him all afternoon and he does not answer me. “Send it to me [una foto de contenido sexual]. It costs you nothing”. “It seems you don’t love me anymore.” These are phrases that adolescents recognize as habitual in their conversations with their partner and in WhatsApp groups. A study, developed by Virginia Sánchez-Jiménez, María Luisa Rodríguez de Arriba and Noelia Muñoz Fernández, from the Departments of Evolutionary Psychology of the Universities of Seville and Loyola, has investigated whether they perceive them as aggression and to what degree. According to the research, published in Journal of interpersonal violence, everyone identifies these conversations as common in their relationships. However, they perceive them as more aggressive, while they believe that they are less serious.
The research is based on a worrying premise: technologies are used to coerce and attack the couple and these actions are present in a large part of relationships between adolescents. To check whether minors perceived this violence, during the study WhatsApp conversations that adolescents identified as habitual were recreated and 262 students between 12 and 18 years old were asked what degree of aggressiveness they conferred on them and if this varied depending on the scope , if the communication was between the couple or in a group.
Researcher Janine Zweig, from the Justice Policy Center in Washington, defines online aggression during relationships as “the use of new technologies to harm and harass a partner”. A practice that scientist Phyllis Holditch Niolon, from the Violence Prevention division of the United States Centers for Disease Control, does not hesitate to describe as “a public health problem.”
The forms of violence towards couples are grouped into verbal or emotional aggression to insult, harass or threaten; control and surveillance, and sexual assault, which includes coercion, pressure, insults, comments and unwanted exchange of texts or images. These categories have been examined during the study of Spanish universities through conversations designed to be neutral in terms of gender and sexual orientation.
Both boys and girls responded that they had experienced the three categories of aggression in public and private conversations “often”, a category only one point below the consideration of “always”.
The perception of aggressiveness varies according to the category of violence and whether it occurs in public or private. In this way, both men and women consider insulting conversations “slightly aggressive” if they remain in the sphere of the couple and “aggressive” if they transcend the group. None of the control scenarios was rated with the highest degree of severity, neither in public nor in private.
Control and surveillance
The authors of the study explain that control through networks “seems more acceptable than other forms of aggression, such as sexual and face-to-face aggression. Some teens find certain acts, such as sharing passwords or checking their partner’s social networking contact list, to be acceptable under certain circumstances and even as evidence of mutual trust and concern for the partner. Although it can be irritating and increase conflict within the relationship, some adolescents perceive this aggression as less severe than others and justify it in some circumstances.
“Controlling the partner”, explains Sánchez-Jiménez, “is the behavior that is perceived as less serious. Knowing where he is, why and to answer quickly is more normalized in the adolescent couple. It even looks positive, as proof of love: ‘I call you and insist so much on the messages because I’m worried about you and, therefore, you have to answer’. For those who answer, the code is: ‘The priority is you and I have to answer quickly’.
Where the perceptions between boys and girls vary the most is in the scenarios of sexual aggression through the Internet, understood as the unwanted exchange of sexualized images and texts. While they do not consider it “very aggressive” either in private or in a group, they do not hesitate to attribute greater seriousness to these events, although they do not reach the highest rating in the study carried out. For the private WhatsApp sexual harassment conversation, the aggressor resorted to emotional blackmail to obtain an erotic image of the couple, despite the victim’s insistent refusal to send it. The public sexual assault analyzed was the sending of a private photo of the couple to a group.
The study highlights that the consequences of this violence are also different: “Adolescent girls are at greater risk of associated psychological disorders” and “experience it more negatively than boys”. For its part, always according to the study, although the boys consider that sending images is “inappropriate behavior”, they describe it as a fairly common practice.
According to the researcher from the University of Seville, “adolescents are more aware than boys. They suffer more and are more aware of what is happening because the consequences are greater. That makes them more sensitive.”
The study introduces a little-studied factor in this field: moral disconnection, a process of self-conviction through which ethical principles do not apply to oneself in a certain context, an intentional deactivation to maintain coherence between values and behaviors. In this sense, according to the research, adolescents with high levels of moral disconnection perceive aggression as less aggressive.
The network has not incorporated new aggressions, but it has added new tools and multiplied the effects. In this sense, Sánchez-Jiménez explains: “The Internet facilitates and amplifies certain types of aggression, which can pass from the private to the public sphere very quickly. Psychological aggression also has particular characteristics, such as disinhibition. For the person who attacks, it is more difficult to see the consequences in the other person, they do not see the direct impact on the victim and that minimizes empathy. Furthermore, aggression can be present 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is very difficult to escape aggression on the Internet, especially if it is public. Even if it happened once, it is repeated as many times as it is shared and so is the victimization”.
The way to prevent them is, in the opinion of the researcher, intervention from the family and from the school. “The sooner the better,” she warns. And he adds: “Having a partner is something we have to learn and we are seeing that, if we teach how to manage expression and desire to those who have more difficulties in their sentimental lives and in an evolutionary moment in which we experience love for the first time , involvement in violent behavior is greatly reduced”.
Access to personal information, passwords and networks can also be limited. But Sánchez-Jiménez warns: “The kids have to understand what risky behavior can be and what it means to share personal and private information, but make it clear that the responsibility for the aggression lies with the aggressor. Not attributed to the victim. We cannot force this to be preventive in a circumstance that should not happen. We cannot lose the perspective that the responsibility always lies with the aggressor”.