College Students are Especially Vulnerable to Psychological Violence and Cyber Victimization

Psychological Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and cyber victimization are on the rise, affecting more people across the world today than ever before.

This is largely due to the increasing popularity of the Internet, which can act as a convenient channel for emotional abuse.

In a world where people are constantly "plugged in," emotional abuse can strike at any moment. As such, young adults, with their larger online presence, are at the greatest risk of experiencing psychological IPV and cyber victimization.

These forms of emotional abuse have been the subject of many previous studies, with results consistently demonstrating the negative effects of these forms of abuse on their victims. However, a recent study broke new ground by examining the unique contributions of each of these variables to mental health problems, after accounting for the other. This has enabled the two variables to be more individually understood. The results demonstrated that psychological IPV contributes uniquely to depressive symptoms (such as feelings of worthlessness or apathy), while cyber victimization contributes uniquely to both depressive symptoms and antisocial behaviors (ranging from isolation to aggression and even weapon-carrying). This was the first study to establish a unique link between cyber victimization and mental health issues, after accounting for psychological IPV.

Psychological Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and Cyber Victimization Often Affect the Same Victims
In order to better understand how psychological IPV and cyber victimization affect young adults, the study examined students at a private university in the southwestern United States. The sample was demographically representative of first-year students at this university, with respect to age, race, and sex.

38% of students reported experiencing both forms of emotional abuse. Furthermore, the study found that when multiple types of victimization occurred, the risk of depressive symptoms and antisocial behavior both increased. This is a dangerous combination, given that cyber victimization and psychological IPV were found to be positively correlated (𝞀=0.33). This connection lends credence to the theory of polyvictimization, which examines how victimization is often experienced in multiple forms. Due to their diverse social circles and broad online presences, college students may be the most vulnerable prey of polyvictimization.

Psychological Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is Especially Problematic for Minority Students
Minority groups in red
In another study published by Liebert, minorities were consistently shown to be more likely to experience psychological IPV. These social "target" groups included LGBT, non-white, and non-Christian students. The findings revealed that students with a history of psychological IPV in middle or high school had a significantly increased risk of experiencing psychological victimization in college. It was therefore hypothesized that, as polyvictims, minorities with a history of mental and emotional put-downs could expect this behavior to continue throughout college.

The study also theorized that psychological IPV may be especially damaging to college students in ways that are unique from other forms of victimization. Dating relationships at this age become more serious with higher expectations, and many young adults see college as their best opportunity to find a lifelong partner. Due to this increased sense of urgency, college students may be more willing to endure psychological IPV if it means maintaining the security of a relationship. This explains the emergence of the depressive symptoms to which psychological IPV uniquely contributes.

Larger Online Presence Leaves Young Adults Uniquely Vulnerable to Cyber Victimization
third study, published by the Pew Research Center, showed that over the last decade, social media use has increased across all ages, but that people aged 18-29 lead the way with 90% of respondents reporting social media use. Young adults are especially engaged in today's world of social media, and it leaves them more vulnerable to cyber victimization.

Social media apps like Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter enable predators to accumulate sensitive materials that can be used as leverage against their victims, and what was once a thoughtless picture or location check-in can come back to haunt. Aggressive acts such as tracking one's location or blackmailing someone with compromising pictures are now a reality that many college students face.

Bullying has historically been a physical phenomenon, but the convenience and permanence of the Internet means that threats can now come at any time and in any place. And even if the threats never materialize, the scope and depth of such menace can severely hinder the emotional and mental well-being of a college student. This aggression elucidates why cyber victimization contributes uniquely to both depressive symptoms and antisocial behaviors. Not only do victims endure constant emotional abuse, but the fear of future harm also causes them to shrink away from others who may be able to support them.

Confiding in Others can help Victims Escape Psychological Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and Cyber Victimization
Despite all the negative factors facing college students, not all hope is lost. Many universities offer free and confidential health services, including counseling and recommendations for therapy for students facing emotional abuse. Thierry Guedj, one such counselor at Boston University, offers his suggestion to students struggling with cyber victimization: "The Web offers the sense of anonymity and almost unlimited power. If you're unseen, you feel invulnerable. You think you cannot be found out... Typically, what I've advised people is to put it out in the open."

Guedj posits that by bringing the abusive behavior into the light, a victim destroys the illusion of anonymity and forces the abuser to shrink back. Perhaps the connection of depressive symptoms and antisocial behaviors can be used beneficially: One can use intentional social behaviors (confiding in friends or family) as a catalyst to begin eliminating depressive symptoms. A return to healthy relationships may not occur by the same process for everyone. However, by utilizing school resources and relying on trusted friends, victims can find their way back to healthy, happy lives.

For more information about the affects of psychological intimate partner violence and cyber victimization, refer to the following links:

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