06 Jan Risk Factors of Sexual Violence Across Young Women’s Relationship Histories
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Angie Kennedy, PhD
School of Social Work
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Nearly half of women (44%) experience physical or sexual partner violence by young adulthood, with 1 in 5 girls in high school reporting abuse within the last year. Sexual violence typically co-occurs with other forms of partner violence; co-occurring sexual and physical violence among adolescent girls is linked to health-risk behaviors including alcohol and drug use, unhealthy weight control, sexual risk-taking, and suicidality. As such, it represents a serious public health problem.
To better understand this issue, we wanted to explore risk factors for sexual violence during young women’s adolescent and young adult relationships, i.e., what predicts attempted rape and rape by a partner during this vulnerable period?
We took a novel approach: We examined predictors across multiple relationships, beginning with the first one, and we recruited a diverse sample of young women from a four-year research university, a two-year community college, and community sites serving low-income young women.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: During the first relationship, when the young women were just under 15 years old on average, low socioeconomic status, young age, and physical violence and coercive control were all predictors of sexual violence. Across all of their relationships, a large age difference between the young women and their partners, along with physical violence and coercive control, were predictors. Additionally, we found differences in the rate of sexual violence by setting: University students had a higher rate of sexual violence in their first relationship, but then their rate declined over the course of their relationships, particularly in comparison to the community college students’ rate of sexual violence, which increased across relationships.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Identifying risk factors for sexual violence within young women’s relationships is critical to developing more effective prevention and intervention efforts. For example, if low age and greater age difference appear to be important risk factors, then we can incorporate this information into prevention efforts, which must begin prior to early adolescence. In addition, we found diversity in the rate of sexual violence across setting and relationships, indicating that the experience of sexual violence is not uniform or stable.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Our study highlights the value of using a relationship-level approach (i.e., examining violence within each relationship, beginning with the first one) to study partner violence among adolescents and young adults. It is also crucial that we recruit socioeconomically diverse samples, rather than relying on participants from high schools and four-year colleges and universities, while ignoring young people who have dropped out of school or are attending community colleges. Future research should continue to explore risk factors for sexual violence within relationships, so that we can build a sound knowledge base that can inform prevention and intervention efforts. To be the most effective, these efforts must be designed to reach an increasingly socioeconomically diverse population across a range of settings.
Kennedy, A. C., Bybee, D., Moylan, C. A., McCauley, H. L., & Prock, K. A. (2018). Predictors of Sexual Violence Across Young Women’s Relationship Histories. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260518811439
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