Opinion: 6 facts about adolescent sexual assault

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Christine Blasey Ford’s account that she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh when they were teenagers is prompting both informed and uninformed comments from politicians. Even more private conversations on the subject are taking place in homes and offices across the country.

There is a large body of social science research on so-called “peer sexual assault” that is relevant to these discussions. We are experts in violence, including sexual offenses against children and youth, and our research focuses on investigating to document these realities and track trends.

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Here are six basic facts about teen sexual assault.

What does the research say?

1. Assaults in people under the age of 18 are common: 18% of girls and 3% of boys report having been the victim of sexual assault or abuse at the age of 17 from another adolescent.

This estimate, and those of the following three points, come from a national survey on violence among more than 6,000 young people aged 10 to 17, conducted between 2008 and 2014. Peer-to-peer sexual assault has been defined as affirmative responses to one of the following two questions: 1) At any time in your life, has another child or adolescent made you do sexual things? 2) At any point in your life, has anyone tried to force you to have sex, that is, sex of any kind, even if it wasn’t has not taken place?

In addition, to be counted, all offenses required physical contact and a minor perpetrator.

2. Most assaults between adolescents do not involve sex. Penetration occurs only in 15% of cases.

3. Failure to disclose or report the assault is common. Most – 66% – of teenage victims did not tell a parent or other adult about the assault. Only 19% reported the assault to the police.

4. Victims have a variety of reactions to the assault. For example, the level of fear at the time of the assault runs the gamut: 32% said they were very afraid, but 26% said they were not afraid. The others said they were a little scared.

5. Assaults can be serious and long-lasting. Both sexual and non-sexual assault in adolescence are associated with above normal levels of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic symptoms and risk of being assaulted again. It is one of the most reliable findings in the growing science of how negative childhood experiences lead to poorer physical and mental health later in life.

6. Some youth who commit sexual assault are serial offenders, but most are not.The recidivism rate for these young people is 5%, lower than that of first-time assault adults, and has declined over time, possibly due to increased awareness and intervention.

Education works

Sexual assault experts agree that educating young people is one of the most important ways to reduce the incidence of sexual assault: Among the tools used by educators are lessons on consent , good decision-making, refusal skills and the empowerment of witnesses to intervene.

A number of educational programs with such components have been formally evaluated and shown to be effective, including programs such as Security dates, Changing borders, Green Point and the Fourth R.

Surveys suggest that adolescent and adult sexual assault has declined or stagnated over the past 25 years, without increasing. Yet far too many young people suffer from these crimes and their effects. The development of educational programs is an obvious and crucial priority to reduce this toll.

David Finkelhor is professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of New Hampshire. This was first published on The conversation – “Teenage Sexual Assault: 6 Facts


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