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J Adolesc Health. 1997 Jul;21(1):3-10.

Ethnic differences in childhood and adolescent sexual abuse and teenage pregnancy.

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College of Nursing, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA.



This study examined ethnic differences in childhood and adolescent sexual abuse and the effect on teenage pregnancy rates.


A 20-page questionnaire elicited information about women's sexual and pregnancy history, high-risk behaviors, and sexual abuse, based a modified version of the Koss and Oros Sexual Experiences Survey. Over 1,900 women between 18 and 22 years old were recruited at 44 urban and rural sites. Women representing four ethnic groups completed an English or Spanish version of the questionnaire.


Almost 36% of the women reported sex abuse before age 18 years of age, and more than 26% were pregnant before reaching 18 years old (teenage pregnancy). Compared with their nonabused peers, twice as many women who were coerced into sex or raped had a teenage pregnancy. Minority group teens were more likely than Anglos to have a teenage pregnancy and to have been coerced into having sex, rather than raped, prior to teenage pregnancy.


Over one-third of pregnant teenagers in this study have been sexually abused, usually involving sexual intercourse, prior to becoming pregnant. Coercive sexual abuse is more likely to contribute to teenage pregnancy among minority group teens, whereas rape is more likely to contribute to a teenage pregnancy among Anglos.


This report of a comparative study on the effect of ethnicity on sexual abuse experience and adolescent pregnancy opens with a review what is known about teenage pregnancy in the US, the sexual abuse of children and adolescents, and links between sex abuse and teenage pregnancy. Data for the current study, part of a larger study of adolescent pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and childhood victimization, were gathered using a 20-page questionnaire administered over 16 months beginning in the fall of 1993 to 1937 women aged 18-22 recruited from 44 urban and rural sites in a southwestern state. The sample included 785 Whites, 549 Hispanics, 283 Blacks, and 320 American Indians. It was found that higher levels of educational attainment led to increased age at first adolescent pregnancy. While 60% of the women had never married, over 54% of those who were separated, divorced, or widowed had become pregnant during their teenage years. Minority teenagers were more likely than Whites to become pregnant at younger ages. Almost 36% of the women reported at least one form of sexual abuse before age 18. Analysis of adolescent pregnancy by severity of sexual abuse (contact molestation, coercion into sex, attempted rape, and rape) revealed that nonabused Whites had the lowest percentage of teenage pregnancies but that, in all groups, experience of sexual abuse led to increased adolescent pregnancy rates. Minority teenagers who were coerced into sex were more likely than nonabused peers to become pregnant during adolescence as were White teenagers who had been raped. Additional studies are required to explore the interrelated factors that contribute to sexual abuse and adolescent pregnancy and to provide girls at greatest risk of teenage pregnancy with educational enhancement opportunities.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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