Integrative Review of Cyber Dating Abuse in College Students

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Linden Wu, BSN, RN1
Elizabeth A. Schlenk, PhD, RN1
Jocelyn Anderson, PhD, RN, FNE-A, SANE-A2
Elizabeth Miller, PhD, MD2
Mary Lou Klem, PhD, MLIS3
(1)School of Nursing, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
(2)School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
(3)Health Sciences Library System, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA


Young adults (age 18-30 years) are the most active Internet users in the United States, with online social experiences 1,2.Cyber dating abuse (CDA) is a complex intimate partner violence (IPV) nexus including, but not limited to, stalking, sexual harassment, psychological harm, or emotional harm perpetrated via technology 3, 4.CDA encompasses abusive behaviors towards intimate partners carried out using an electronic medium3. These behaviors can include sending threatening or harassing, messages, sharing explicit or private photographs, or monitoring intimate partners. CDA is particularly prevalent among adolescents and young adults, with up to 74.1% of college students reporting CDA5.


The purpose of this integrative review is to describe the current terminologies, theories, and measures regarding CDA among college students.


Searches of four databases (PubMed, PsycINFO, SocIndex, and Scopus) were conducted in consultation with a reference librarian. Inclusion criteria included: (1) data-based articles, (2) college students who were 18-26 years old, (3) a description of CDA behavior, (4) data on intimate partners, and (5) full text articles in English.

Main Results

In total, 493 articles were reviewed, and 36 met inclusion criteria. This review found no standard terminology to describe CDA. Researchers used terms, such as cyber aggression, digital dating abuse, and electronic aggression. Despite these different terminologies, two themes emerged: (1) inclusion of technology and (2) harassing intrusive and hostile comments. Researchers used theories related to crime, social learning, poly-victimization, and gender to explain the phenomenon of CDA. CDA measures varied in examining perpetrators only, victims only, and both perpetrators and victims. Measures also showed variability in evaluating media used to perpetrate CDA (e.g., being specific only to Facebook, emails, or text messages).


This review found a lack of standardized terminology and measurement tools to describe and evaluate CDA. CDA was also situated and described using different conceptual and theoretical models across a range of disciplines. Standardized definitions and measures would be helpful in better identifying what is known about CDA. Further research is needed to promote understanding of CDA experiences.