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Fam Plann Perspect. 1992 Jan-Feb;24(1):4-11, 19.

Sexual abuse as a factor in adolescent pregnancy and child maltreatment.

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Women's Studies Program, University of Washington, Seattle.


Two-thirds of a sample of 535 young women from the state of Washington who became pregnant as adolescents had been sexually abused: Fifty-five percent had been molested, 42 percent had been victims of attempted rape and 44 percent had been raped. Compared with adolescent women who became pregnant but had not been abused, sexually victimized teenagers began intercourse a year earlier, were more likely to have used drugs and alcohol and were less likely to practice contraception. The abused adolescents were also more likely to have been hit, slapped or beaten by a partner and to have exchanged sex for money, drugs or a place to stay. Young women in the abused group were also more likely to report that their own children had been abused or had been taken from them by Child Protective Services.


The study of child abuse as a factor in teenage pregnancy is part of a 3-phase effort begun in 1988 with a baseline survey of 535 young women in Washington state. Results of the follow-up survey and a review of Child Protective Service case records and focus group interviews will be forthcoming. The sample was drawn from 35 pregnant and parenting adolescent program sites in 9 counties of which 4 included urban areas and 5 were rural. 25 school-based programs were involved as well as 3 Northwest American Indian tribal organizations. 93% were 17 years at their 1st pregnancy. Since 50% of the 15,581 pregnant women and 8057 live births in 1989 were involved in school or community programs, the results are not generalizable to the sexually active adolescent female population in Washington. The sites selected do, however; reflect the number and geographic distribution of school and community programs. 5 with 9390 participating; the concern about the difficulty of obtaining parental permission was unfounded. The survey questionnaire was concerned with demographic characteristics, family background, pregnancy and parenting history, sexual histories, and behavioral indicators of sexual victimization and physical maltreatment and neglect. The results are discussed under the following topic headings: demographic measures, site comparisons, school status comparisons, 1st intercourse, 1st pregnancy, physical abuse (sexual victimization and other violence), prepregnancy abuse, prevalence of maltreatment, and abuse by teenage parents. An unanticipated finding was that 66% were sexually victimized overall, and 62% prior to the 1st pregnancy. Sexual activity began at an earlier age than other sexually active adolescents, i.e., 45% of 15-19 year old have had premarital sexual intercourse, with a mean of 16.2 years vs. the mean age of nonvoluntary intercourse of 13.8 years, and of nonabused women of 14.5 years vs. abused women of 14.2 years. There was also less contraceptive use, i.e., 28% of the sample vs. 49% of sexually active 15-19 year old women. Among the finding are that abused women are 3 times more likely than nonabused women to have children that are maltreated and are more likely to have repeat pregnancies. Sexual victimization may account for the continuing high rates of teenage pregnancies, and prevention efforts need to include interventions for this effect.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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