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Research Summaries

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Adolescent Pregnancy and Sexual Risk-Taking Among Sexually Abused Girls

Original article by: Jacqueline L. Stock, Michelle A. Bell,
Debra K. Boyer and Frederick A. Connell

This study investigated the association between histories of sexual abuse and the incidence of adolescent pregnancy in young women. The researchers analyzed data collected from surveys completed by 3,128 adolescent girls (grades 8, 10 and 12) in Washington State Schools. These surveys included various questions about the girls' physical and sexual abuse history, current sexual activity, and pregnancy history.

Although a correlation between sexual abuse and teen pregnancy was not found to be statistically significant, several sexual risk factors were more common among the sexually abused group of girls. Sexually abused females were more likely to have had sexual intercourse by age 15 and to report that their last sexual encounter was without the use of a birth control method than females who had not experienced abuse. Furthermore, the young women who had been previously abused tended to report that they have had multiple sexual partners.

The higher prevalence of these risk factors in adolescents with a history of sexual abuse suggests that they could be at greater danger of contracting an STD/HIV, as well as becoming pregnant. Therefore, these data show a strong association between previous sexual abuse and risk for adolescent pregnancy based on the girls' younger age of sexual onset and higher incidence of practicing unprotected sex. The researchers encourage educators to focus on victims of childhood sexual abuse for additional education on safer-sex practices.

The second major finding of the study was that girls reporting a history of both sexual and physical abuse were approximately four times as likely to have had a pregnancy compared to those with no abuse history. Due to this finding, researchers recommend that a future study be conducted to examine how a history of sexual abuse contributes to an increased risk of early pregnancy.

It is important to note that this study has potential limitations based on methods and design. First, answers from self-reported surveys are not always accurate due to the respondents' possible self-denial, fear of lack of confidentiality, imprecise memory, and misinterpretation of questions. Second, some girls may have included their sexual abuse experiences when answering questions about sexual activity. This confusion could bias results to show an enhanced connection between the two factors. Finally, the results of the study may not necessarily be valid for all populations given that it was conducted in an urban school with a predominantly Caucasian population.

Stock, J.L., Bell, M.A., Boyer, D.K. & Connell, F.A. Adolescent Pregnancy and Sexual Risk-Taking Among Sexually Abused Girls. Family Planning Perspectives, Vol 29 (5), 1997.