The Relationship Between Sexting and Physical Abuse: The New Vehicle for Covictimization? Elizabeth Tobin Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne
Theoretical Background: Texting and SextingTexting has been an important topic of research inrecent years (Smith, 2011).Additionally, sexting (sending sexually explicit video,picture or text) has been of interest because it hasbeen found to be prevalent in romantic relationships(Drouin & Landgraff, 2012).
Theoretical Background: CovictimizationIn one study, women who were covictimized received more severelevels of abuse than those who had only been subjected to eitherphysical abuse or sexual abuse. Women who were abused in twoforms had more psychological problems than women who wereabused in one severe form (Katz, Moore, and May, 2008).It was found that covictimized women (those who had experiencedboth sexual and physical abuse) were more frequently subjected tounwanted sexual relations than women in the only unwanted sexualabuse group (Katz, et. al., 2008).Katz, Carino, and Hilton found that the perpetration of physicalaggression was positively correlated with the perpetration of sexualcoercion between dating partners (2002).
Theoretical Background: Attachment AnxietySexual motivation is in part prompted by relationship anxiety (Davis,Shaver, Vernon, 2012).Anxiously attached men were more likely to take part in sexualbehaviors in order to feel good about themselves, whereas anxiouslyattached women were more likely to take part in sexual behaviors toavoid conflict with their partner (Impett, Gordon, & Strachman, 2008).Anxiously attached women were not more likely to consent tounwanted sexual advances, but they did do so for different reasons,for example to keep their partner happy. This aligns with otherresearch in the field that says women high in attachment anxiety willdo almost anything to keep their relationship solid (Impett & Peplau,2002).Anxiously attached individuals took part in sexting more than thosewho were not anxiously attached (Drouin & Landgraff, 2011).
Goals of the Current StudyThe current study had two main goals: To determine the prevalence of unwanted yet consensual sexting (i.e., saying yes even if you do not want to by sending a sexually explicit video, picture, or text) among committed relationship partners. To determine whether unwanted yet consensual sexting is related to attachment anxiety, physical abuse, and other coerced sexual behaviors..
HypothesesWe hypothesized that because physical abuse andsexual coercion are related, then unwanted yetconsensual sexting would be related to physicalabuse as well.We predicted that attachment anxiety would berelated to unwanted yet consensual sexting amongwomen.
MethodsParticipants (N=186) were 81 males and 105 femalesThe average age was 21.36 years (SD=4.09)The ethnic breakdown of participants was as following: 78% White 6% African American 4% Biracial 6% Hispanic 2% Asian 1% “other”Participants completed this survey for partial credit forresearch participation in an introductory psychology class.All participants filled out consent forms and were givenaccess to an online anonymous survey.
Survey Details OutlineDemographic questionsSexting Behaviors SurveyExperiences in Close Relationships scale (ECR; Wei et al., 2007)
Demographic QuestionsThe survey included basic demographic questions,such as: Age Gender Class Standing Major
Sexting Behaviors SurveySexting Behaviors Online Survey To determine participants’ unwanted yet consensual sexting behaviors and frequencies of physical abuse, we asked the following frequency questions: Unwanted yet consensual sexting within committed relationships-- “How often have you consented to sexting with a committed relationship partner when you actually did not want to sext?” on a 6-point Likert scale (ranging from 1 = never to 6 = very frequently). Other coerced sexual behaviors-- “How often have you been talked into doing the following behaviors?” (e.g., sexting, foreplay, sexual intercourse, masturbation, kissing, and other sexual experiences) on a 6-point Likert scale (ranging from 1 = never to 6 = very frequently). Physical abuse in a romantic relationship-- “How often have you been the victim of physical abuse from a romantic relationship partner?” on a 4-point Likert scale (ranging from 1 = never to 4 = four or more times).
Experiences in Close Relationships ScaleExperiences in Close Relationships scale (ECR; Wei et al., 2007) As a measure of attachment, participants completed the 12-item short form of the ECR Measures attachment in relationships along two dimensions Anxious (e.g., “I need a lot of reassurance that I am loved by my partner”) Avoidant (e.g., “I try to avoid getting to close to my partner”) Participants rate their level of agreement with each statements on a 7-point Likert scale (ranging from 1 = disagree strongly to 7 = agree strongly). Higher scores indicate higher levels of anxious or avoidant attachment in close relationships (Anxious Cronbach’s alpha = .77; Avoidant Cronbach’s alpha = .85.)
Frequencies of Being Talked into Various Sexual Behaviors in Committed Relationships Figure 1 Frequencies of Being Talked into Various Sexual Behaviors in Committed Relationships 100%Frequency of Behavior Figure 1 shows the 80% (in percentages) frequency of being talked into various sexual 60% behaviors. 53.23% of those 40% in committed relationships had participated in 20% unwanted yet consensual 54% 56% 64% 67% 78% sexting. 0% Coerced Sexual Behavior
Predictors of Being Talked into Sexting Based on Gender Table 1 Predictors of Unwanted Yet Consensual Sexting (N=186) Men Women Variable B SE B B SE B Frequency of 1.57 0.71 0.29* 0.33 0.16 0.2* Physical Abuse Anxiously Attached -0.1 0.14 -0.09 0.2 0.11 0.19† R2 0.08 0.01 F 2.47 4.91 *p < .05. † < .10For women, there were two unique predictors of participating in unwanted yet consensualsexting with a committed partner: being anxiously attached and prior physical abuse. Inmen, only prior physical abuse was a predictor of unwanted yet consensual sexting.
ConclusionsUnwanted yet consensual sexting is somewhat commonamong committed relationship partners.Frequency of physical abuse in any relationship is positivelycorrelated with unwanted yet consensual sexting.Unwanted yet consensual sexting is related to attachmentanxiety, but the relationship is significant for women only.Thus, women who have previously been subjected tophysical abuse and are anxiously attached are more likelyto consent to unwanted sexting.
ImplicationsPrior research has shown that there is a high prevalence ofsex messages that get forwarded, even in committedrelationships (Drouin, Vogel, Surbey, & Stills (2013). Addingcoercion to this may create additional moral and legal issues.Our findings suggest that there is an additional(technological) route to physical and sexual covictimization.Programs with aims to curb sexting among teens (especiallyunwanted sexting) should be designed so that attachmentpatterns and physical abuse are considered and addressedconcurrently.