By Grace Fansler, MPH, Prevention & Education Program Coordinator
The body of behavioral research regarding sexual violence among middle and high school aged adolescents is currently slim. Most research into sexual violence perpetration and victimization and sexual misconduct prevention focuses on individuals 18 to 22 years of age. That’s why researchers from the University of Michigan sought to study peer-to-peer sexual violence among male and female middle and high school students. The study, published in 2018, investigated what factors increased the risk of adolescents experiencing sexual violence, as well as what factors heightened the risk of an adolescent perpetrating sexual violence. The study used a large racially and socioeconomically diverse sample taken from communities in southeastern Michigan over a four-year period.
In an article from the Michigan Daily, head researcher Dr. Quyen Epstein-Ngo stated that the goal of the study was to: “expand the realm of research in this area because we knew that it could provide important clues regarding behavioral trajectories that can influence adolescent development well into adulthood”. Identifying risk and protective factors for younger populations can help us better understand sexual violence perpetration risks in adults, as well as help us to better protect young people.
In regards to victimization and perpetration, substance use, conduct disorder, ADHD, and depression were associated with peer-to-peer sexual violence for both male and female adolescents. Black adolescents attending schools in low socio-economic districts were more at risk for sexual violence victimization. Students with mental health disorders, such as ADHD or depression were also at an increased risk for victimization.
Not many studies have examined the risk factors that heighten adolescent risk. By researching these risk factors, we are better able to address complex relationships between sexual violence, mental health, socioeconomic status, and race in our prevention efforts.