Upon opening my email this morning, I scrolled down to my daily MEDPAGE TODAY update. As I browsed through the latest medical news and updates, I found this new continuing medical education article available for credit. What caught my eye instantly was the title. It is provocative, disturbing, and delivers a sense of urgency to the reader. In my opinion, this article and the research behind it should be justification enough for any school district to incorporate dating violence awareness, abuse, and stalking prevention programs into their curriculum immediately. Below is the article in its entirety. PLEASE share this article. Let’s break the silence and the cycle of violence.
Sexual Violence Common Among Adolescents
Published: Oct 7, 2013
Nearly one in 10 of the 14- to 21-year-olds surveyed reported perpetrating sexual violence in their lifetime, researchers found.
Of the 9% who committed some type of sexual violence, 8% engaged in forced sexual contact (kissing, touching), 3% persuaded someone to yield to their sexual demand (referred to as coercive sex), 3% attempted rape and were unsuccessful, and 2% completed rape, according to Michele L. Ybarra, MPH, PhD, of the Center for Innovative Public Health Research in San Clemente, Calif., and Kimberly J. Mitchell, PhD, of the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H.
Most often (73%), the victims were a romantic partner and 50% of perpetrators said the victim was responsible for the sexual violence. Most perpetrators also said no one had found out about the incidents, so contact with the justice system was uncommon, researchers reported in the Oct. 7 issue of JAMA Pediatrics.
Perpetrators of sexual violence tended to have more frequent exposure to sexually-charged and/or violent material on television, in music, in games, and online compared with non perpetrators.
For example, 33% of those who attempted rape were exposed to violent and/or sexually explicit material compared with 4% of non perpetrators.
Ybarra and Mitchell found that most young people who reported trying to force or forcing someone to have sex reported using coercive tactics, such as arguing, pressuring someone, getting angry or making someone feel guilty, more commonly than using threats or physical force.
The most common age at the first perpetration of sexual violence was 16 (40%), and males were overwhelmingly more likely to have their first episode at 15 or younger (98%) compared with females. Boys ages 16 and 17 had similarly high rates of first sexual violence (90%).
However, by ages 18 or 19, “the split of male to female perpetrators was nearly equivalent,” researchers reported.
“Although I was saddened by the results of this study, I was not surprised,” Emily Rothman, ScD, an associate professor in the department of community health services at Boston University School of Public Health, told MedPage Today.
“We have known for decades that the prevalence of sexual violence victimization among youth is unacceptably high, and that youth are responsible for 30% to 50% of the perpetration of childhood sexual abuse,” Rothman said.
She pointed to aspects of the study that are “novel and important,” and show for the first time:
- Nationally representative estimates of the proportion of young people who are perpetrating sexual abuse against peers
- Information that the majority of this sexual abuse (73%) is actually dating violence (the sexual coercion happens in the context of a romantic relationship)
- Information that the proportion of those who believe that they are not responsible for having been sexually coercive is very high (one in seven of those who had done it)
- Information that there is a strong association between exposure to sexually explicit material (i.e., pornography) and reporting sexual abuse perpetration among youth
Rothman noted the emergence of school-based prevention curricula that have demonstrated through randomized controlled trials that they can reduce the perpetration of dating and/or sexual violence.
A cluster randomized trial by David Wolfe, MD, from CAMH Centre for Prevention Science in London, Ontario, and colleagues found that a 21-lesson curriculum delivered during 28 hours by teachers with additional training in the dynamics of dating violence and healthy relationships reduced physical dating violence and increased condom use up to nearly 3 years later.
Rothman also said continued support for research that examines the link between sexually explicit media and youth sexual violence is important.
“We need to ensure that youth have access to comprehensive sex education that teaches them media literacy skills so that when they are exposed to pornography or other sexually explicit media they understand how to interpret it and how it may be impacting them or their peers,” she told MedPage Today.
For the study, Ybarra and Mitchell analyzed data in the Growing Up with Media study.
A majority (52%) of perpetrators met their victims at school, with 12% meeting at an outside school activity.
Many perpetrators engaged in more than one type of sexual perpetration — forced contact, coercive sex, unsuccessful rape, and completed rape — with 12% reporting two different behaviors, 11% reporting three, and 9% reporting all four types.
There were differences in the type of sexual violence by age of first perpetration. Up to age 15, oral sex was the most common (65%), followed by vaginal sex (46%), and anal sex (40%). At ages 18 or 19, vaginal sex was the most common perpetration (96%), followed by anal sex (13%).
The researchers did not find differences by race/ethnicity or household income in terms of those who reported sexual violence perpetration.
One important limitation of the study is that the sample was drawn from an Internet panel, and there may be biases in terms of who participates in those surveys, Rothman noted.
Another limitation is that results were based on self-reports and are therefore likely under-reported, Rothman suggested.
The study received support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.