Teen Sexual Assault and Abuse
Current as of 2008
Sexual violence is any act (verbal and/or physical) which breaks a person’s trust and/or safety and is sexual in nature. Victims/survivors of sexual assaults are forced, coerced, and/or manipulated to participate in unwanted sexual activity. Adolescent women are at a higher risk for sexual violence than any other age group. Part of the reason for this is the large number of date/acquaintance rapes, which commonly occur at this age.
This is coupled with the fact that many adolescents are victims of sexual abuse and incest as well. Due to past or ongoing sexual abuse, teens with these experiences are more likely than their non-abused peers to participate in “delinquent” teenage behaviors including those which result in social problems, conflict with authority, early sexual behavior, and eating problems. These behaviors may help the teen escape from jeopardy and/or to serve as a cry for help.
Date/acquaintance rape is sexual assault perpetrated by someone known to the victim such as a friend, an employer, a date, or someone the victim/survivor recently met. It is almost always perpetrated by males against females. It is NEVER the victim/survivor’s fault no matter what she wore, where she was, whether she fought back, or whether she was drinking. The perpetrators are 100% responsible for their actions. Rape, including date/acquaintance rape, is violence where sex is used as a weapon. Date/acquaintance rapists often believe the following myths: women owe men sex if they spend money on her; some women play hard to get and say “no” when they mean “yes;” and women enjoy being pursued by an aggressive male.
Individuals who have been assaulted and/or abused by someone they know may feel guilty or responsible for the abuse, feel betrayed, question their judgment, or have difficulty trusting people. Recovery from an assault can be assisted by contacting an advocate who understands the needs of sexual assault victims. Many communities have rape crisis centers with 24-hour counseling and advocacy services. Adolescents who are being sexually abused can contact the 24-hour National Child Abuse Hotline for assistance and referral: 1-800-422-4453.
- 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys is sexually assaulted by age 16 (http://www.kcsarc.org/teens&adolecents.htm updated 2007 )
- 43% of girls and 30% of boys experienced unwanted sexual attention, including pressure for dates and sex (The Impact of Bullying and Sexual Harassment on Middle and High School Girls VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN 2007; 13; 627)
- One in five high school girls have been physically and/or sexually assaulted by a dating partner, significantly increasing their risk of drug abuse, suicide and other harmful behavior. .( Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Maternal and Child Health Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (2002) 5. Fact Sheet on Violence: Adolescents & Young Adults.)
- 61% of 10th to 11th graders reported they had been physically/sexually harassed at school (The Impact of Bullying and Sexual Harassment on Middle and High School Girls VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN 2007; 13; 627)
- 10% of young women have been forced to do something sexual at school. http://www.kcsarc.org/teens&adolecents.htm updated 2007 )
- Both victims and abusers attribute responsibility for violent dating behavior to victims, caused by: provocation by the girl; the victim’s personality type; the girl’s need for affection; communication problems; and peer group influence.( vii Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Maternal and Child Health Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (2002) 5. Fact Sheet on Violence: Adolescents & Young Adults.)
- Approximately 81% of students experienced some form of sexual harassment during their school years. Fifty-nine percent were harassed occasionally, and 27% were targeted often. Additionally, 54% of students reported that they had sexually harassed someone during their school years (The Impact of Bullying and Sexual Harassment on Middle and High School Girls VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN 2007; 13; 627)
- A 2001 study of 81,247 high school students looked at the prevalence of date violence and rape in adolescents and examined the associations between date violence, rape, eating disorders, and psychopathology. Findings include the following:
- 50% of youth reporting both dating violence and rape also reported attempting suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys;
- 1 in 10 girls and 1 in 20 boys will have an abusive experience while on a date.
- 77% of female and 67% of male high school students endorsed some form of sexual coercion, including unwanted kissing, hugging, genital contact, and sexual intercourse (D. M. Ackard, Minneapolis, MN, and D. Neumark-Sztainer, Division of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, “Date Violence and Date Rape Among Adolescents: Associations with Disordered Eating Behaviors and Psychological Health.” Child Abuse & Neglect, 26 (2002) 455-473. )
- 58% of rape victims report having been raped between the ages of 12-24.( Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Maternal and Child Health Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (2002) 5. Fact Sheet on Violence: Adolescents & Young Adults. )
- Approximately 16% of adolescents reported being a victim of dating violence. Females reported higher incidence of victimization than males. (Prevalence of dating violence and victimization: regional and gender differences. Adolescence. 2007 Winter;42(168):645-57)
- 46% of teens who have experienced sexual or dating violence say the worst incident happened on school grounds or in the school building (http://www.kcsarc.org/teens&adolecents.htm updated 2007)
- In 9 out of 10 rapes in which the offender was under 18, so was the victim. .( Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Maternal and Child Health Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (2002) 5. Fact Sheet on Violence: Adolescents & Young Adults.)
- 2.7% of girls and 0.6% of boys, which works out to be approximately 400,000 adolescents in the U.S. population, experienced dating violence in 2007 (Prevalence and Correlates of Dating Violence in a National Sample of Adolescents. Journal of American Academic Child Adolescent Psychiatry. 2008 May 19.)
- Nearly one-half of adult sex offenders reported committing their first sexual offenses prior to the age of 18. (Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Maternal and Child Health Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (2002) 5. Fact Sheet on Violence: Adolescents & Young Adults.)
- 15% of females and 6.5% of males under the age of 18 who were raped were raped by an intimate partner. (Howard Snyder and Melissa Sickmund; “Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report”; National Center for Juvenile Justice: March 2006)
- In 2004, there were 2098 sexual assaults reported by teens 13-15 and 377 reported by teens 16-17. (http://oja.state.wi.us/docview.asp?docid=11165&locid=97 published 2004)
- In sexual assaults reported to law enforcement, 67% of female victims and 88% of male victims were under age 18. (Howard Snyder and Melissa Sickmund; “Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report”; National Center for Juvenile Justice: March 2006)
- Girls and women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence. (Callie Marie Rennison (2001). Intimate partner violence and age of victim, 1993-1999. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics)
- One in five high school girls is physically or sexually hurt by a dating partner.( Carolyn Tucker Halpern et al. (2001). Partner violence among adolescents in opposite-sex romantic relationships: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. American Journal of Public Health 91: 1680)
- Forty-five percent of teen girls know someone who has been pressured or forced into having intercourse or oral sex. (Liz Claiborne Inc. Teen Dating Violence Survey, 2005.)
Preventing Sexual Violence in Dating Relationships
Sexual abuse is an act of violence, and it is never the victim’s fault. Every human has ultimate say over their own bodies. No one has the right to take that choice away. Below are some steps that can help prevent sexual violence from occurring in communities. (http://www.governor.state.tx.us/divisions/women/work/violence/files/sa_sheet.pdf, 2007)
1. Change the environment. Too often acts of sexual abuse are not seen as acts of violence. Even worse, the victim is often blamed for the abuse, rather than the abuser. Gender stereotypes and inequalities contribute to the continuation of sexual abuse. Respectfully challenge your peers when they make victim blaming statements such as, “She was asking for it,” or when they reinforce gender stereotypes by insisting that, “Men should ’be in charge’ in relationships.” Talk about teen dating violence and sexual abuse with your family, friends, peers, and community. Learn to be a good bystander and challenge the acceptance and minimizing of sexual violence wherever you see it.
2. Set your boundaries and communicate clearly. Talk early and often about your beliefs regarding sexual activity. Let your dating partner know how you would like to be treated, and make sure you ask how they want to be treated. It is your responsibility to respect your partner’s boundaries at all times and your right to maintain your own boundaries without questioning or justification. Always remember that you and your partner also have the right to change your boundaries.
3. Find out about local resources. Find out where the nearest rape crisis center is and how you can get in touch with them. Talk to your school counselor about the school’s policies for handling dating and sexual violence, including sexual harassment.
4. Support victims. Studies show that students are likely to talk to their friends about dating and sexual violence before they talk to anyone else. If one of your friends discloses sexual abuse or assault to you, listen intently and avoid asking victim-blaming questions such as “Did you try to fight him off?” or “Did you lead her on?” It is crucial to most survivors of sexual assault that the first person they tell is supportive. If not, they may never talk about the assault again, or seek the services they need. Let your friend know about local resources, and offer to support them in their decision to seek help.
This fact sheet was updated in 2008 by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Inc. (WCASA). WCASA is a membership organization of sexual assault centers, other organizations, and individuals throughout Wisconsin working to end sexual violence. For information sheets on other topics or to become a member, contact WCASA, 600 Williamson St., Suite N-2, Madison, WI 53703, (608)257-1516, www.wcasa.org. For more information about sexual assault or to receive support with a sexual assault experience, contact your local sexual assault program. This sheet may be reproduced in its original format only. This information does not constitute legal advice.