Objectives: In focus groups designed to probe violence and fighting, urban youth emphasized the impact of gender-based violence in their lives. We used this opportunity to qualitatively explore how gender-based violence affects the lives of urban adolescents. Methods: Thirteen structured focus group interviews were held with youth from three high-violence settings: a large, urban high school, a training center for disadvantaged youth, and a school for adjudicated youth. Participants were 120 urban, predominant African American youth and young adults ages 14-22. Seven focus groups were conducted with females and six with males. Results: Participants did not talk about violence without discussing the gender-based violence they experienced in a number of social roles: as witnesses to family violence, as victims of intimate partner and dating violence, or as peer observers of harassing and violent behavior. Male participants felt that other males used violence as a way of maintaining a sense of power over their partners. Participants of both genders struggled to identify the boundaries between playing, harassment, and abuse. Female participants suggested that females sometimes wanted males to hit them, interpreting this violence as a sign of commitment. Similarly, females struggled to determine if gender-based violence could be a reflection of love. Conclusions: Gender-based violence is a significant issue in the lives of urban adolescents. Youth experienced gender-based violence in a number of contexts and roles, and many had concluded that such violence was sometimes acceptable. Prevention strategies should start early and address the spectrum of youths' experiences.
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