Risky Dating Behaviors in the Technological Age: Consideration of a New Pathway to Victimization

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2017-04-18

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The present study explores the relationship between risky lifestyles, both online and offline, in relation to cyberstalking victimization risk. Online risky lifestyles are measured through online dating application behaviors, a new potential pathway to victimization that has received heavy media attention in recent years. As online dating applications become an increasingly normalized part of relationships and young adults rely more on the use of technology to pursue and foster interpersonal connections, it can be suggested that these applications present new opportunities for risky behaviors and victimization possibilities online. Using a systematic random sample of undergraduate students from a Southern university, an original survey instrument was created to measure traditional offline riskybehaviors, such as sexual behaviors and substance use, along with technological and online risky behaviors, including explicit messaging behaviors and use of online dating applications to pursue relationships. Online dating applications, while a popular subject of media reports, have yet to be explored using original data collection among the young adult population. This series of risky behaviors, along with underlying individual differences in self-control and victimization history are explored in relation to cyberstalking victimization risk using the frameworks of lifestyle-routine activity theory (Hindelang, Gottredson, & Garafolo, 1978; Cohen & Felson, 1979), the vulnerability thesis (Schreck, 1999), and arguments of repeat victimization, namely state dependence (Tseloni & Pease, 2003) and population heterogeneity (Hindelang et al., 1978). Descriptive statistics for online dating application behaviors suggest that users are indeed engaging in potentially dangerous activities through these applications, including meeting an online only contact for the first time at a private residence. Multivariate models support the relationship between increased risky behaviors, decreased selfcontrol, and increased risk of cyberstalking victimization. With respect to repeat victimization risk, both arguments of state dependence, which states that individuals who experience an initial victimization event are at a higher likelihood for additional victimization events (Tseloni & Pease, 2003), and population heterogeneity, suggesting that victims and non-victims are inherently different in some way (Hindelang et al., 1978) are supported in the data. Research implications and future research possibilities are discussed.

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