Lauren’s dissertation focuses on “digital dating abuse,” which is repeated patterns of abusive dating behaviors using the Internet or cell phones. She is looking specifically at the gender dynamics of behaviors, motivations, experiences and consequences of digital dating abuse for both boys and girls. She collaborates with a local high school system for her research. For the project, she surveyed about 1000 students regarding their cell phone and social media use, bullying, and physical, sexual, and psychological dating violence both online and offline. The focus of this project is to use the research to inform sustainable school programming to prevent digital dating abuse and other forms of gendered violence. Her goal is for students to drive the content of programming, acting as peer educators and advocates. “It should be shaped around whatever they are excited about,” she says.
Now that she’s in her dissertation research phase, she spends about three days a week in the schools, available to students and staff. The school administration is very engaged in the issue of digital dating abuse but doesn’t have the time to be proactive; they want preventative scenarios that will create school culture change.
Many are passionate and interested, but she knows there is much to be done. She hopes, with more funding, to collect additional data through interviews and to begin to host workshops in the schools. Lauren also volunteers with Teen Voice, a dating violence and sexual assault peer education group at SafeHouse Center, an Ann Arbor organization that provides shelter and services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. She loves working with the Teen Voice group, and would like to replicate the peer education model she sees there as she develops dating violence prevention programs in other school districts.
“Having an M.S.W. already allows me to practice while I’m doing research. I think it makes me more effective in my dissertation project and pushes my research to a new level.”
She attends conferences when she can, and was thrilled to travel to Germany and Switzerland last year in addition to a School of Social Work trip to India to visit women’s empowerment programs. “Meeting people globally who do this work is very inspiring to me.”