Study finds sexual violence to be common among teens

Image of school hallwayA new study shows sexual violence is prevalent among teens. Nearly 1 in 10 youths report having perpetrated an act of sexual violence according to the study. Attempted or completed rape was reported by 4% of a nationally representative sample of young people between ages 14 and 21.

Published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, this research is the first report to attempt national estimates of adolescent sexual violence perpetration and the perpetrator experience. The data draws from surveys in 2010 and 2012 a part of the Growing Up with Media study. 

The findings shed valuable light on teen perpetration, and I think this study highlights the importance of healthy sexuality as a prevention strategy. It’s also important to remember that the vast majority of young people do not perpetrate violence, and youth often face stigmas and barriers related to adultism and stereotypes in culture and media. In reviewing this data, it’s important to understand that all human behavior is in the context of environment, education and experience, and it’s vital that our prevention efforts impact these areas.

Highlights

Research should always be taken in context, and reviewing the study, methods and limitations is helpful in interpreting data. Draw your own conclusions. 
•    Nearly 1 in 10 (9%) reported some type of sexual violence perpetration (kissing, touching and unwanted sexual contact, attempted or completed rape).
•    Sixteen was the most common age of first perpetration (40%).
•    Teens reporting sexual violence perpetration also reported greater exposure to sexually violent media. 
•    Half of young people who sexually offend said the victim was completely responsible (50%).
•    All perpetrators were familiar with victims, and three in 4 victims were a romantic partner (73%).
•    Few people who sexually offend experience consequences or contact with justice system.
•    Coercive tactics (32%) such as pressuring, arguing and guilt and anger (63%) were vastly more common than use of threat (5%) or physical force (8%). 

Connections

Results of this study are rich with connections very relevant to anyone looking to support youth and especially adolescent health care providers, school-based professionals and advocates. Demographic information from the research challenges gender bias and stereotypes by including both males and females as perpetrators and reporting lowest rates of perpetration by disadvantaged youth and underprivileged populations. 

I love that the research challenges practitioners to check assumptions and biases, and I also like how the research identifies the key roles of health care providers and educators in supporting youth.  Findings also detail strong connections between x-rated, sexually violent material and media exposure and perpetration. Additionally concerning is the high rate of victim-blaming attitudes and lack of responsibility and accountability among people who sexually offend. I am struck by the consistency between unhealthy messages and attitudes and sexual violence behaviors.  

Study conclusions reference bystander intervention, school-based education, and sexual health providers as assets to prevention efforts and opportunities to interrupt repeat offenders. It’s a lot to digest, but I am pondering the role of healthy sexuality in impacting our youth. To me the data confirms that early adolescence and sooner is an imperative time to reach youth, and we can’t miss the opportunity to share healthy messages, challenge negative behaviors and provide accurate, age-appropriate information. 

Related reads:

The New Teen Porn Culture from ModernMom
Chris Brown and a Nation of Raped Boys from Olivia A Cole
Understanding rape perpetration to prevent rape perpetration from PreventConnect