Predicting the emergence of sexual violence in adolescence

Research Project: Growing Up With Media

Ybarra ML, Thompson RE. Predicting the emergence of sexual violence in adolescence. Prev Sci.  Published online July 07, 2017. doi: 10.1007/s11121-017-0810-4.

Abstract: This study aims to report the epidemiology of sexual violence (SV) perpetration for both female and male youth across a broad age spectrum. Additionally, the etiology of SV perpetration is examined by identifying prior exposures that predict a first SV perpetration. Six waves of data were collected nationally online, between 2006 and 2012, from 1586 youth between 10 and 21 years of age. Five types of SV were assessed: sexual harassment, sexual assault, coercive sex, attempted rape, and rape. To identify how prior exposures may predict the emergence of SV in adolescence, parsimonious lagged multivariable logistic regression models estimated the odds of first perpetrating each of the five types of SV within the context of other variables (e.g., rape attitudes). Average age at first perpetration was between 15 and 16 years of age, depending on SV type. Several characteristics were more commonly reported by perpetrators than non-perpetrators (e.g., alcohol use, other types of SV perpetration and victimization). After adjusting for potentially influential characteristics, prior exposure to parental spousal abuse and current exposure to violent pornography were each strongly associated with the emergence of SV perpetration—attempted rape being the exception for violent pornography. Current aggressive behavior was also significantly implicated in all types of first SV perpetration except rape. Previous victimization of sexual harassment and current victimization of psychological abuse in relationships were additionally predictive of one’s first SV perpetration, albeit in various patterns. In this national longitudinal study of different types of SV perpetration among adolescent men and women, findings suggest several malleable factors that need to be targeted, especially scripts of inter-personal violence that are being modeled by abusive parents in youths’ homes and also reinforced by violent pornography. The predictive value of victimization for a subsequent first SV perpetration highlights the inter-relatedness of different types of violence involvement. Universal and holistic prevention programming that targets aggressive behaviors and violent scripts in inter-personal relationships is needed well before the age of 15 years.

PubMed ID: 28685211

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