Partner Aggression in a Digital Age: Prevalence and Predictors of Cyber Psychological Abuse

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Along with the growth of information communication technologies, cyberaggression has emerged as an important focus of study. This research largely concerns cyberbullying among children and adolescents, with little known about adult intimate partner abuse perpetrated through information communication technologies. The current investigation examined the prevalence of cyber psychological abuse (CPA) perpetration and victimization among adult internet users. This study also investigated the relationships between CPA and traditional forms of partner abuse and whether technology use and previously established risk factors for traditional intimate partner violence predicted CPA. Factors hypothesized to predict CPA included demographics (age, female sex) history of child maltreatment, psychological factors (problematic alcohol use, problematic drug use, difficulties in emotion regulation), and relationship-related factors (attachment insecurity, relationship jealousy, communication skills, and relationship satisfaction). Participants were 243 adult internet users in an intimate relationship during the past 12-months. Participants were recruited through Amazon'sMechanical Turk and completed an online assessment battery. Descriptive analyses indicated approximately three quarters of participants (75.3% for perpetration; 71.2% for victimization) reported at least one instance of CPA during the past year, with 10% reporting at least one instance of severe CPA victimization or perpetration. Individuals reporting higher CPA perpetration and victimization reported greater daily cellular phone use and greater daily social media use. CPA victimization and perpetration were both positively correlated with traditional forms of abuse, including physical assault, emotional abuse, and sexual coercion. Multivariate hierarchical regression analyses suggested that each set of risk factors for traditional forms of intimate partner abuse contributed significant unique variance to the prediction of CPA. Unique predictors of perpetration included older age, greater child physical and sexual abuse, greater problems with alcohol, more difficulties with emotion regulation, more behavioral jealousy, and less relationship satisfaction. Unique predictors of CPA victimization included greater child physical abuse and child sexual abuse, more problems with alcohol, more behavioral jealousy, and less relationship satisfaction. Results suggest that CPA is common among adult internet users and that it co-occurs with traditional forms of abuse. Clinical implications involve the need for screening and intervention practices for safe technology use in populations at risk for partner violence.