Study Links Childhood Sexual Abuse, Teen Pregnancy

February 26, 1998

Girls who were sexually abused as children are far more prone to risky sexual behavior and early pregnancy as adolescents, according to preliminary results of a decade-long tracking study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California and the National Institute of Mental Health.

While previous studies of teen pregnancy and risky sexual behavior have retrospectively documented high rates of prior sexual abuse, the USC-NIMH study is the first to document this connection by looking at the psychological and behavioral development of sexually abused girls as they were moving from adolescence to adulthood.

The NIMH-funded study -- "Sexual Activities and Attitudes of Sexually Abused and Nonabused Adolescent Girls" -- is the longest-running research project to track the psychobiological effects of sexual abuse on female develop- ment, says Penelope K. Trickett, Ph.D., an associate professor of social work and psychology at USC. Dr. Trickett and NIMH researcher Frank Putnam, Ph.D., are principal co-investigators in the study.

Trickett will present the findings today (Thursday, Feb. 26, at 3 p.m.) at the Seventh Biennial Conference of the Society for Research on Adolescence, which continues through March 1 at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego.

"Our preliminary analysis indicates that sexually abused girls are more likely to have babies and more likely to have them at a younger age," Trickett reports. "Furthermore, the abused girls in our sample were sexually active at a younger age and bore greater numbers of children than a comparison group of girls of similar age and socio-economic status who were not victims of childhood sexual abuse."

The sample consisted of 160 girls living in the Washington, D.C., area. They were between 6 and 16 years old when the study began. Approximately half of these subjects had been sexually abused by a family member and the other half had not. The sexual abuse had commenced when the girls averaged 8 years of age and lasted for an average of two years.

The USC-NIMH research data were derived through a statistical analysis of results from a computer-given questionnaire dealing with the girls' behavior and attitudes relating to sex, together with the results of in-person interviews. The girls' average age was 18 when these assessments came to an end this year.

Statistically significant findings of the study include: "This shows that while the sexually abused girls are having more sex and thinking about it more, they're also having more negative thoughts about the experience and feeling more pressure," Trickett says. "We're trying to figure out what affects the wide variability in responses -- why some do so poorly and others do so well as they become adults."

In prior analysis following an earlier assessment of the sample, the researchers looked primarily at behavioral and psychological problems associated with sexual abuse. "Girls who were abused by their biological fathers had the highest scores of acting out, disruptive behaviors and even bizarre thinking," Trickett reports.

The USC-NIMH researchers next will analyze how different kinds of abuse may relate to the degree of trauma and psychological stress experienced by each victim. They also will assess how this trauma and stress might be mediated by support from family, peers and psychotherapists, as well as by the physiological and psychological changes each girl experiences as she goes through puberty.

In addition to the NIMH, the National Center of Child Abuse and Neglect and private foundations provided funding for the study. USC researcher Jennie Noll, based at the NIMH in Washington, D.C., is project director and (with Trickett and Putnam) a co-author of the study.
-end-


University of Southern California

Related Behavior Articles from Brightsurf:

Variety in the migratory behavior of blackcaps
The birds have variable migration strategies.

Fishing for a theory of emergent behavior
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba quantified the collective action of small schools of fish using information theory.

How synaptic changes translate to behavior changes
Learning changes behavior by altering many connections between brain cells in a variety of ways all at the same time, according to a study of sea slugs recently published in JNeurosci.

I won't have what he's having: The brain and socially motivated behavior
Monkeys devalue rewards when they anticipate that another monkey will get them instead.

Unlocking animal behavior through motion
Using physics to study different types of animal motion, such as burrowing worms or flying flocks, can reveal how animals behave in different settings.

AI to help monitor behavior
Algorithms based on artificial intelligence do better at supporting educational and clinical decision-making, according to a new study.

Increasing opportunities for sustainable behavior
To mitigate climate change and safeguard ecosystems, we need to make drastic changes in our consumption and transport behaviors.

Predicting a protein's behavior from its appearance
Researchers at EPFL have developed a new way to predict a protein's interactions with other proteins and biomolecules, and its biochemical activity, merely by observing its surface.

Spirituality affects the behavior of mortgagers
According to Olga Miroshnichenko, a Sc.D in Economics, and a Professor at the Department of Economics and Finance, Tyumen State University, morals affect the thinking of mortgage payers and help them avoid past due payments.

Asking if behavior can be changed on climate crisis
One of the more complex problems facing social psychologists today is whether any intervention can move people to change their behavior about climate change and protecting the environment for the sake of future generations.

Read More: Behavior News and Behavior Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.