The impact of a history of sexual abuse on high-risk sexual behaviors among females attending alternative schools

Ruth S Buzi, Susan R Tortolero, Robert E Roberts, Michael W Ross, Robert C Addy, Christine M Markham
Adolescence 2003, 38 (152): 595-605
The goal of this study was to explore whether a history of sexual abuse is associated with high-risk sexual behaviors among female adolescents attending alternative schools in a large urban city in the southwestern United States, and to examine the role of depression and substance abuse in explaining this association. One hundred eighty-four sexually active female adolescents constituted the sample for this analysis. Forty-nine (26.6%) reported that they were forced to have sex. Having a history of sexual abuse substantially increased sexual risk behaviors. Adolescents reporting a history of sexual abuse, compared to those who did not report such a history, were significantly more likely to have initiated sexual activity (intercourse) before age 14, to have had three or more sexual partners in the last 3 months, and to have had a history of sexually transmitted diseases. These associations remained significant after controlling for age, ethnicity, and family income. Depression and substance abuse did not explain the association between sexual abuse and high-risk sexual behaviors. It seems reasonable to conclude that adolescents with a history of sexual abuse have greater difficulty practicing safe sexual behaviors than do those who have not been sexually abused. Given the prevalence of child sexual abuse and the extent of its impact, it is critical that intervention strategies for adolescent females address the issue of abuse and help them adopt self-protective sexual behaviors. The findings also highlight the importance of targeting adolescents who attend alternative schools.

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