Socio-Emotional Abuse of Adolescents

Out of the context of totalitarian systems, socio-emotional abuse of adolescents is documented. In service of a political system or a political ideology, adolescents are used as informants or schemers against individuals of their social environment. This is accomplished by using social, emotional, or economical dependencies of these adolescents or by establishing such dependencies specifically, which may contribute to the fact that their loyalty lies with representatives of the state primarily and not with family members, friends, or other individuals of their circle of acquaintances. Similarly, adolescents become offenders that cause harm to individuals of their personal environment as well as victims that suffer from this situation. Hence, it is to be assumed that this form of abuse is connected with significant stress in regard to the personal relationships of the affected individuals and its consequences can be extensive.
     It must be assumed that similar patterns of socio-emotional abuse can establish themselves under less spectacular contexts, for instance in families or in educational and care institutions – namely, for instance, if adolescents are offered an allegedly stressed “position of trust” by (for them) important adults, in order to gather information on others or to become active out of the interests of these important adults. In regard to these patterns of socio-emotional abuse, various questions arise that are to be answered in the context of a research project.

  1. What conditions enable or facilitate socio-emotional abuse of adolescents?
  2. Through what forms and processes is socio-emotional abuse of adolescents characterized?
  3. With what kinds of consequences is socio-emotional abuse connected to the adolescents in question– also in regard to later stages of their lives?

     In a first stage, these research questions should be analyzed on the basis of such cases where exceptionally severe forms of socio-emotional abuse of adolescents took place in a totalitarian regime. In this context, the focus lies on individuals who were active as informal collaborators for the state security service in the GDR before coming of age. In a second stage, such cases should be included and analyzed in which socio-emotional abuse took place in actual contexts, i.e. in contexts where socio-emotional abuse took place less spectacularly but, potentially, not less severely. Within the framework of a comparative study, an advanced analysis of the conditions, manifestations, processes, and consequences of socio-emotional abuse is aimed for, taking into consideration the respective particularities as well as the similarities between the respective contexts.
     Within the scope of this research project, concepts regarding the research on authoritarianism, attachment, and adolescence should be drawn on theoretically. Among other things, insights regarding prior experiences in important social relationships, dynamics of development and shifting of aggression, as well as adolescent emancipation processes in terms of phenomena of socio-emotional abuse could result in fruitful findings in this way. Empirically, the project will be realized according to a qualitative design. Since the subjective perspectives and experiences of the affected (former) adolescents should be reconstructed and made accessible principally, the project is to be based on biographic and theme-centered interviews predominantly. In addition, expert interviews should be conducted and, if possible, documents (i.e. diaries) should be analyzed as well.