Bloomberg News

One in Ten U.S. Adolescents Commit Some Type of Sexual Violence

October 08, 2013

About 1 in 10 young people have committed some type of sexual violence during their life, according to one of the first studies to look at young male and female perpetrators on a national level.

Research published in JAMA Pediatrics found about 10 percent of those 21 years old and younger said they committed an act of coercive sexual contact, including kissing or touching someone against the other person’s will, convincing someone to have sex with them when the person didn’t want to, attempted rape and completed rape.

More than 1 million people are victims of sexual violence each year in the U.S., costing almost $127 billion in medical and mental health costs, lost earnings, pain and diminished quality of life, the research found. The study is one of the first to provide national estimates of young perpetrators of sexual violence, said Michele Ybarra, the lead study author .

“We need to start talking to our kids before they’re 16 years old about what healthy sex is and what unhealthy sex is,” said Ybarra, president and research director of the San Clemente, California-based Center for Innovative Public Health Research, a nonprofit group examining the effect that technology has on health.

Researchers in the study analyzed data from 1,058 people ages 14 to 21 who took part in the Growing Up with Media study from 2006 to 2012. The Growing Up With Media Study, a collaboration between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, is an continuing survey of about 1,600 youth and their caregivers.

Study Findings

The study found that 108 young people reported committing some type of sexual violence in their lifetime. Eight-four youths, or 8 percent, committed forced contact by kissing, touching or making someone else do something sexual knowing the other person didn’t want to; 33, or 3 percent, convinced someone to give into sex when they knew the other person didn’t want to called coercive sex; 43, or 3 percent, attempted rape; and 18, or 2 percent, forced someone to have sex or completed rape.

Almost all of those who committed their first act of coercive sexual contact at ages 15 years or younger were male, the study showed. At ages 16 and 17 years about 90 percent were male. By ages 18 and 19 though, the number of male and female perpetrators were about equal. Females tended to have older victims, while males had younger victims, the researchers said.

About 40 percent of those who committed sexual violence did so for the first time by 16 years of age, the paper said.

Perpetrators had more exposure to television, music, games and Internet sites that depict sexual and violent situations than those who didn’t commit the crimes, the authors found.

Emotional Coercion

Those in the study who tried to coerce or actually forced someone to have sex used arguing, pressure, anger or guilt to get their way rather than threats or physical force. The victims were most often a boyfriend or girlfriend and about half of the perpetrators blamed the victim for the sexual violence, the paper said.

Most of the perpetrators said no one found out about the incident. Only 1 percent said they had contact with police following their crime and 1 percent said they were arrested, the paper found.

“The rate of perpetration is concerning,” said Ybarra. “The lack of identification and consequences for perpetrators is concerning.”

More programs are needed to better identify those who commit these acts and to encourage bystanders to come forward when something occurs, she said. More research also is needed to understand the differences between male and female perpetrators and how to intervene.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Ostrow in New York at nostrow1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net


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