A Social Relationship: Child Abuse and Teen Pregnancy

Child abuse is a nation wide problem.  The results indicate that about 12% of men and 17% of women were sexually touched by adults before reaching the age of 13.  An assessment provided by the National Committee of Child Abuse Prevention reported over 1 million child abuse cases across the country. 15% or 150,000 of these cases involved sexual abuse. When the State Department of Children and Family Services investigated these cases, they found evidence of abuse in over 5,000 cases.  4,167 of these cases the victim was female and 1,110 were male.  More than half of these children, 10 years old and younger suffered from sexual abuse; a quarter of this percentage was younger than the age of 6.  Other statistics show that children who have experienced abuse, both physical and sexual, are 2.3 times as likely to have consensual intercourse.  Those with a history of sexual abuse were more likely to report having sex by the age of 15.  Of young adults who are sexually active, half are not using birth control or contraceptives on a consistent base.  Thus, an association between sexual abuse and teenage pregnancy appear to be the result of high-risk behavior exhibited by American teens.

A history of sexual abuse is a strong predictor of sexual behavior that increases the risk of teen pregnancy.  Premature sexual experiences by Jr. High and High School students create a strong relationship between abuse and pregnancy.  This is due to the increased likelihood that these teenagers will have sexual intercourse early and multiple partners when compared to non-abused teens.  They also have a decreased likelihood to use birth control. This suggests that childhood sexual abuse can adversely affect the normal pace of adolescent psychosexual development.  “Some victims respond by voluntarily initiating sexual intercourse at a young age and becoming sexually promiscuous.”

A Washington State Survey of Adolescent Health Behaviors asked 8th, 10th, and 12th graders questions regarding pregnancy history, sexual behavior, and abuse.  The study found that teens that experienced abuse were twice as likely than others to have sexual intercourse by the age of 15 and younger.  Understanding, teens early sexual experiences are necessary to observe why some are more likely than others to become pregnant.  Sexual abuse results in premature, exploitive, and coercive sexual experiences.  These premature experiences may form the social and emotion context for early pregnancy.  The consequences of childhood sexual abuse include promiscuity, victimization of later coercive sex, poor self-concept, low self esteem, and a lost focus of control.  This behavior is typical for all types of abuse, weather it be sexual abuse, physical, or emotional abuse as a child.  Although the nature of sexual abuse varies in terms of type, duration, and relationship, age of the victim, and perpetrator or petifile; all unwanted sexual experiences contribute to increased sexual behavior and low self esteem.

When it comes to the relationship between abused children and teen pregnancy, it must be iterated by teen pregnancy is less likely a product of rape or forced sex. Although this does occur, more often sexual victimization preceded teen pregnancy.  Several studies indicate that in the general population of women, 60% to 80% of abuse occurs before the age of 11.  Other studies associated with teen pregnancy report indicate the similar results for men as they are likely to first experience molestation at 9 years and younger.  From the same survey conducted by Washington’s Adolescent Behaviors, 18% of eighth graders experienced a history of sexual abuse.  Of the 3,128 girls surveyed, only one incident of abuse resulted in pregnancy.  Thus, the statistics further indicate that teen pregnancy is less than likely a direct result of rape. 

Every 104 seconds a teen becomes pregnant and 42% of them were abused as a child.  This is a strong indication that adolescent pregnancy may mask a history of sexual abuse.  Among these teenagers, those who reported sexual abuse were three times as likely to become pregnant before the age of 18.  Those who were raped at an early age are up to four times as likely have a pregnancy.  Washington conducted a survey using a sample of sixth, eighth, 10th, and 12th graders in various school districts.  The survey was conducted in a multiple choice format, giving students up to five possible responses to questions about drug and alcohol use, health risk factors, sexual activity, and experiences of physical and sexual abuse.  The questionnaire asked students directly and indirectly whether or not they had ever experienced any form abuse.  The definition given to the students was:  “when someone in your family or someone else touches you in a sexual way in a place you did not want to be touched, or does something to you sexually which they shouldn’t have done.” Also asking directly, “Have you ever been physically abused or mistreated by an adult” as well as whether or not they have been pregnant.  Through this study it was revealed that amongst 10th graders that experienced teen pregnancy, 48% of them reported sexually abused.  For 12th graders, 60% of had a history of sexual or physical abuse.  Consequently, those who experienced either sexual or physical abuse are twice as likely to become pregnant. Students who had experienced both sexual and physical abuse were four times as likely to have a pregnancy.  In another survey, a sample of females students from grades 6-12 found that 13% experienced forced sex where as 17% reported to have had unwanted sexual touching by an adult in or outside the family during childhood.  Overall, when grade level is controlled, students reporting sexual abuse and/or rape are 3 times as likely to become pregnant.

Although previous studies have reported a correlation between a female’s adverse childhood experiences and their risk of teenage pregnancy, a similar correlation exist for males.  A sample survey of High School males determined that, abused boys are also at a high risk of teen pregnancy.  A study conducted from the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey questions about a thousand students. It found that teen pregnancy was significantly higher among students with a history of forced sexual contact which consisted of 36% compared to those with no experienced of sexual molestation of 9%.  In another survey sampling older men averaging at 38 years old, 43% reported experiencing both child abuse and impregnating a teen.  59% of these men were 20 years of age or older when impregnating a teen and 84% of impregnated women were between the ages of 16 and 19.  Men who “often” or “very often” experienced physical abuse, witnessed maternal battery, or sexual abuse as a child were twice as likely to impregnate a teen.  Of the men surveyed, 32% reported having been physically abused by the age of 18, 15% sexually abused, and 11% had a battered mother.  This gives strong indication that sexual abuse affects both men and women in teenage pregnancy. Whether or not the victim is a boy a girl, a substantially large amount of teen pregnancies occurs among abused children.

Teen pregnancy is a large and complex public health problem. . Those that experienced sexual abuse are significantly more likely to have high absentee rates, less involvement in school activities, and less motivation to succeed in life.  Abused children also have a higher alcohol and drug consumption compared to non-abused teens. Thus, it is multidimensional and seems to repeat itself. An abused child will become a teen parent who, without the proper parenting skills and counseling, may in turn abuse their own child or be in an abusive relationship. This causes a never ending cycle of abuse.  These teen moms are more likely to be abused or neglected because of their social, financial, and emotional stressors of teen motherhood.  Therefore, successful prevention strategies must address its many complexities, including the important role of sexual abuse.  Clinicians and researchers who work with pregnant teenagers stress that understanding of the emotional, mental, and life changing attributes that embody premature sexual experiences can help others better understand the teen pregnancy phenomenon. Policies at the national level must set the stage for recognizing the consequences of sexual abuse.  Thorough and routine inquiry regarding exposure to abuse among school age and adolescent children may be helpful in targeting girls and boys for prevention of pregnancy, counseling, and support. This can especially aid in sexual behavior, promiscuity, sexual risk taking, and birth control.  Some researchers call on pediatricians to increase efforts to screen male and female children for signs of abuse.  Urging “continued vigilance on the part of pediatricians is a vital component of teen pregnancy prevention.”    It may help decrease “intergenerational transmission of abuse and domestic violence.”  The idea of making physicians screen for child abuse and prevention does little to help the problem.  Many families, especially those in poverty, do not have health or medical insurance and do not see a doctor regularly.  So the idea of having physicians screen children for abuse would only be affective for a limited segment of society.  However, it’s key to screen young sexually active teens for a history of sexual abuse.  It can assist those affected by this cruelty to receive the proper help, counseling, and consultation needed to break the horrible cycle. This will allow victims to move on from their painful past.  Abuse can be prevented through teaching adolescent mothers how to protect their children from sexual abuse.  For both prevention and counseling it is necessary for people to know how abuse can interfere with normal development. This way, parents will be able to recognize the signs of sexual abuse in their children.  Young teens and mothers will be able to better understand their current and previous behavior as well as how to prevent promiscuous behaviors, building self-esteem, and gaining control of high risk sexual behaviors.  

An abusive childhood can mean an adult who is not sufficiently prepared to respond to the stress of the world.  It is clear that childhood experience of sexual abuse is profound carry long-term influences on thinking and behavior.   There are many psychological factors.  Abused children have problematic adult experiences because of the abuse that happened to them decades earlier.  A 17-year-old teen parent admits to having problems with sexual abuse the occurred when she was 5 and “still carry the memory, hurt, and guilt with me.”  Another stated that, “I was so scared that I used to sleep in my clothes every night.  Sometimes I still do.”  These experiences are extremely extensive to one’s life including the high risk teen pregnancy. Consequently, mistreatment of any kind has increasing implications in adolescent pregnancy.  The fact that pregnancy is high among girls and boys suffering physical, but not sexual abuse, illustrates the need for further study demonstrating how abuse contributes to an increased risks that of negative consequences.



Adolescent Pregnancy and Sexual Risk-Taking Among Sexual Abused Girls [part 1 and 11]. Stock, Jacqueline L Bell; Michelle A Boyer; Debra K Connell; Fredrick A. Family Planning Perspectives, 29(5): 200-202, September 1997. The Alan Guttmacher Institute

Program Stops Generational Patterns of Childhood Abuse, Teen Pregnancy.Meyer, Harriet. Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior, August 1997, vol.13; Issue 8, pl,3p

Child Watch: Saving our children the waters way. Edelman, Marian Wright. Call and Post (Cleveland) 9/23/1993; v.78; n.38 p.5A

Boyhood Abuse Increases Men’s Risk of Involvement in Teenager’s Pregnancy. Family Planning Perspectives, 33(4):  184+, July 2001. The Alan Guttmacher Institute.

Forced Sex and Teenager Fatherhood. Family Planning Perspectives, 31(2): 54+, March 1999.

Abused Children, Teen Mothers.On the Issues, 111 (3): 6, Summer 1994.Choices Women’s Medical Center, Inc

Everybody’s Problem. Atlanta Inquirer 12/09/2000; v.40;n.19 p.3

About Russia Robinson

I use my writing talents, and skills I’ve learned through academics and experience, to benefit the greater good of society. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I give informative information on a variety of topics and issues that affect society. I also write creative works like children’s books, short stories, poems, and a novel in progress. I earned a BA in English creative writing and American literature from San Francisco State and graduate studies in Technical Writing at Kennesaw State University. Through my career in education and mental health I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher, working in education, social services, and mental health. Interested in my writing services? Feel free to contact me via email.
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