Teri E. Lassiter, MPH

Urban Health


Date passed dissertation defense
April 18, 2012

Work Position
Rutgers School of Public Health, Instructor/Fieldwork Coordinator


Data not available

Title of the Dissertation

Exposure to Dating/Sexual Violence and Health Risk Behaviors among Black, Hispanic, and White Female Adolescents

By Teri Elizabeth Lassiter, MPH
Dissertation Chairperson: Rula Wilson, PhD, RN

Dissertation Abstract

Study background and significance

Adolescent dating violence is part of continuum of physical and sexual violence that is directed at young women, supported by social norms that condone sexist attitudes, and which elicits a range of psychological, behavioral and health outcomes, including profound feelings of powerlessness.   Dating behaviors among adolescents present a complex series of actions that are not always understood by parents, teachers, researchers, or the adolescents themselves.  The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between dating/sexual violence (DorSV) and health risk behaviors among White, Black, and Hispanic female adolescents, using data from the 2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and the 2009 New York City Youth Risk Behavior Survey (NYC YRBS).  The health risk behaviors chosen for this study included: 1) risky sexual behaviors, 2) violence related behaviors, 3) suicidal behaviors, 4) smoking, 5) alcohol use, 6) drug use, 7) perceived danger, 8) feelings of sadness or hopelessness, 9) early initiation of risky behaviors, and 10) problem behavior on school property.  The study examined whether differences in health risk behaviors among White, Black, and Hispanic female adolescents were exacerbated by exposure to dating/sexual violence.  In addition, the study used a combined ecological/problem behavior theory designed for this study to examine whether living in an urban environment further exacerbated differences in health risk behaviors.  The results of this study will inform the design and development of gender and age specific culturally sensitive prevention and intervention programs to address health risk behaviors among White, Black, and Hispanic female adolescents.


This study is a secondary data analysis of two data sets, the 2009 YRBS and the 2009 NYC YRBS.  The 2009 YRBS sample consisted of 6,988 adolescents and the 2009 NYC YRBS sample consisted of 5,201 adolescents.  The variables of interest were DorSV and the identified health risk behaviors.  The initial analysis was descriptive (univariate), summarizing the characteristics of each sample, DorSV, and sexual risk behaviors, overall and by race/ethnicity.  Bivariate analyses were conducted to compare health risk behaviors among Black, Hispanic, and White female adolescents and their exposure to dating/sexual violence.  The Wald chi-square (X2) tests of independence were used to assess statistical significance of all bivariate relationships through the adjusted F statistic. The final stage encompassed hypothesis testing and model building using logistic regression analyses to examine the relationship between DorSV and health related behaviors by race/ethnicity, while controlling for grade.  


The data analysis revealed significant differences in the rates in which Black, Hispanic, and White adolescents were exposed to DorSV, as well as differences in their participation in the health risk behaviors that were studied.  Of the adolescents who reported exposure to DorSV in this study from the National survey, 24% were Black, 19% were Hispanic, and 15% were White; among those from New York City, 18% were Black, 17% were Hispanic, and 6% were White.  Among the most important findings from the analysis of the National data was that while Black females experienced the highest rate of DorSV (24%), they were most likely to engage in only two out the ten risk behaviors examined when exposed to DorSV.  Hispanic females, who had the second highest rate of DorSV (19%), were most likely to engage in six of the ten risk behaviors examined when exposed to DorSV.  Hispanic females, in the New York City sample, experienced the highest rate of DorSV (17%) and were most likely to engage in five of the ten risk behaviors examined.  Results from both samples revealed that overall, Hispanic adolescents exposed to DorSV were more likely than Black and White adolescents to engage in risky behaviors.  In National and New York City samples, the majority of students were between 14 and 17 years of age, 75% in the National sample and 93% in the New York City sample.  .  Exposure to DorSV by grade overall was similar between the two groups and was not shown to be statistically significant in either sample; exposure to DorSV was similar among adolescents between the four grades nationally and in New York City. 


This study found that dating/sexual violence is a major public health problem among Black, Hispanic, and White adolescents and is associated with a number of health risk behaviors.  A link has been shown between the co-occurrence of dating violence and/or forced sexual intercourse and risk behaviors linked to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in this population.  The physical and psychological consequences of exposure to dating violence can be long term and effect adolescent development, particularly if they accept the outcomes of dating/sexual violence as normative and continue these risk behaviors as adults.  While some health risk behaviors are more serious than others, evidence from this study supports the need to develop programs that are sensitive to race/ethnicity, gender, culture and socioeconomic situation; address the victim, as well as the perpetrator of the violence; and focus on risk behaviors and their association with DorSV, since many of these behaviors occur in clusters.  The limitations of this study include the use of self-reported data; the failure to consider over- or under-reporting of health risk behaviors; and the use of a school- based sample which excludes those not present at the time the survey and is limited to those with parental permission participate.  Thus, the results may not be representative of all adolescents in this age group. Further, the survey measures the prevalence of specific health risk behaviors, but not the reason that they occur.  It is also important to note that dating/sexual violence occurs among all adolescents, regardless of sexual orientation, which is not addressed by the YRBS.  Future iterations of the survey should be designed to elicit information that benefits all adolescents. 



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