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The following paired blogs by Dr. Lynn Addington examine emerging adults (defined by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Ph.D. as “the age period from the late teens to the mid-twenties”), highlighting those who are not in college. The first focuses on emerging adults’ experience with intimate partner violence, stalking, and sexual violence. The second looks at their responses to these incidents in terms of help seeking and use of victim services.

Experiences of Violent Victimization

Who Are Emerging Adults?

Emerging adulthood is a specific developmental period that covers 18- to 25-year-olds and emphasizes this age as one of self-identity exploration paired with greater independence. While many experiences during this time are positive steps into increased responsibilities of adulthood, they also can place emerging adults at risk for victimization. Most of what we know about emerging adults emphasizes those attending college. This focus ignores about 40 percent of emerging adults who do not attend college and are a population who may be at greater risk for victimization.

A new study highlights non-college-attending emerging adults and their experience with IPV, stalking, and sexual assault. The key findings are summarized below as they contribute to our understanding about violent victimization among this population.

Emerging Adults (Prevalence) FINAL_Page_1
Emerging Adults (Help-Seeking) FINAL_Page_1

These data graphics describe the findings explained below.

Intimate Partner Violence

Male and female emerging adults experienced similar patterns of intimate partner violence (IPV), and this pattern occurred for non-college and college groups. About one-third indicated that they experienced IPV during the past year (before they responded to the survey). This data includes both physical and psychological forms of IPV. Of these forms, psychological aggression, such as expressive aggression (belittling, name-calling, etc.) and coercive control (threatening violence to another, demanding to know whereabouts, etc.), is the most common type experienced by all emerging adults.


More emerging adult females were stalked than males, and this pattern occurred for both college and non-college emerging adults. Around 15 percent of emerging adult females were stalked in the past year.

Sexual Assault

Unlike college-attending emerging adults, where more women were assaulted than men, an equal number of non-college-attending emerging adult males and females were sexually assaulted. About one-tenth of non-college-attending males and females were sexually assaulted in the past year.

Responses to Violent Victimization

The Importance of Emerging Adults' Responses to Violence

Studying responses to violence is important in the context of intimate partner violence, stalking, and sexual violence given their long-lasting effects on victims. Examining help-seeking (defined by the Sax Institute as “an adaptive coping process that is the attempt to obtain external assistance to deal with a mental health concern”) and victim service usage patterns among the emerging adult population is even more acute given that skills and habits acquired during this time can shape the rest of their adult years. In particular, both positive and negative interactions could affect future help-seeking decisions.

Who Do Emerging Adults Turn to for Help?

If emerging adults seek help after experiencing violence, they most frequently turn to informal sources such as family, friends, or intimate partners. This is true for both non-college and college emerging adults. More than 40 percent of emerging adult victims sought out these informal sources. Fewer than 14 percent turn to any form of formal help such as police, medical personnel, or counselors. While many victims turn to others for help, about one-third does not seek help from anyone.

Friends Are Important Source of Help to Emerging Adults

More than half of emerging adult victims sought help from a friend. This is true for both non-college and college emerging adults. More victims sought help from a friend than either family or intimates. In contrast, less than a third sought help from a family member and about 15 percent indicated seeking help from an intimate partner.

When Emerging Adult Victims Turn to Friends, They Find Friends Are Helpful

Not only do victims frequently turn to friends for help, but they also find them to be a helpful resource. Both non-college and college victims overwhelmingly report that when they sought help from a friend, that the friend was helpful in some way.

Emerging Adult Victims Do Not Find Formal Help Sources—Such as Police—as Helpful

In contrast, both non-college and college emerging adult victims who sought help from the police found the police equally helpful as not helpful.

Emerging Adult Victims Do Not Tend to Use Victim Services

Similar to formal help seeking, few emerging adult victims use victim services. Among both non-college and college victims, less than 10 percent used victim services such as medical care, housing services, community services, victim’s advocate services, and legal services.

Dr. Lynn Addington is a professor in the Department of Justice at American University and an expert on violent crime and its impact on victims, as well as campus victimization, school violence, and fear of victimization. Read more about her background and her work.