Domestic violence is a serious social and public health problem that occurs in all countries around the world. Domestic violence includes an array of physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse, and controlling behaviors by intimate partners . In 48 population-based studies from around the world, between 10% and 69% of women reported being physically assaulted by an intimate partner at some point in their lives, and for many of these women, physical assault was part of a continuing pattern of abusive behavior . The World Health Organization recently conducted a study on domestic violence against women and women’s health in which 24,000 women were interviewed, at 15 different sites, in 10 geographically, culturally, and economically diverse countries. Even though the settings varied greatly, both among and within countries, the results indicate that violence against women by their male partners is common and has serious consequences .
Although estimating the extent of domestic violence depends upon factors such as the exact definition of domestic violence and how its incidence and prevalence are measured , in many studies women have been found to experience more intimate partner violence than men . Moreover, women victims of this violence suffered more severe injuries and experienced significantly more distress than men . The physical and psychological consequences of domestic violence are both acute and chronic . Research in several countries has shown that male partner violence is associated with physical and mental health problems in women, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicidal behavior. Adult domestic violence is also associated with child abuse and there is evidence that children who are victims of or witnesses to domestic violence have more emotional and social problems than children not exposed to such violence . It has also been found that developmental impairments and psychological problems may affect these children throughout adolescence and into adulthood . Exposure to family violence is associated with community violence and dating violence. Although some results suggest that extrafamilial experiences with violence bring a greater risk for dating victimization than intrafamilial experiences , it has been found in many studies that exposure to family violence was associated with dating violence ] and with attitudes condoning violence, such as when it is considered to be a justifiable means of relationship conflict resolution . Intergenerational transmission of violence has mixed support and some differences according to gender have been found.
Intimate partner violence arises between couples of all ages, however, it seems to occur more frequently in younger couples. In a World Health Organization study , it was found that younger women, especially those between 15 and 19 years old, were at a higher risk of physical or sexual violence by a partner in all countries except Japan and Ethiopia. Although some authors indicate that it is not known whether dating violence is causally related to domestic violence later in life , there is empirical evidence that domestic violence tends to start early in many relationships , and many of these relationships begin during adolescence or young adulthood. In a study using a clinical sample of 240 Spanish women abused by their partners it was found that although the age at the start of the relationship with the abuser ranged from 11 to 50 years old, in 77.0% of the cases, the relationship with the abuser began before the woman was 26 years old.
Violence between adolescent dating partners remains an understudied phenomenon  compared with intimate partner violence between adult partners, and there are a number of significant limitations to the research on dating violence. Although estimates for dating violence differ based on the time frame evaluated, the severity of violence, and the measure of violence used, studies have found a high prevalence of violence between dating partners. Studies of dating violence often find that both males and females are perpetrators and victims, however, methodological issues have a significant impact on the debate as to whether women and men are equally violent . Dating violence is a risk factor for some adolescent health problems. Physical and sexual dating violence against adolescent girls is associated with risk behaviors such as substance abuse and unsafe sex, unhealthy weight control behaviors, pregnancy, and suicidality
In this issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, Muñoz-Rivas and her colleagues present a study about the prevalence of verbal and physical dating violence in a sample of 2416 Spanish adolescents and young adults. Results showed that verbal violence was very high in all ages and was used by 95.3% of the women and 92.8% of the men sampled. Although women were also found to be physically aggressive with their partners, the males engaged in more severe physical aggression and produced more injuries. And although physical aggression decreased with age, health consequences became more severe . The data from this study show that dating violence is a frequent and significant problem in Spain and that, just as in other countries, it presents a threat to women’s health.
The causes of intimate partner violence are complex, however, two factors seem to be necessary for it to occur: the unequal position of women in a particular relationship and in society, and the normative use of violence in conflict . An effective primary prevention program for intimate-partner violence must take place at the community level concentrating on public education and a zero-tolerance policy In addition, secondary prevention is needed for early detection and the treatment of at-risk populations. Finally, tertiary prevention should be available, including the provision of counseling and other health care services to the victims.