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Correlates of Adolescent Reports of Sexual Assault: Findings From the National Survey of Adolescents

NCJ Number
Child Maltreatment Volume: 8 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2003 Pages: 261-272
Date Published
November 2003
12 pages

This article discusses how demographic and incident characteristics are related to adolescent reports of sexual assault.


Research suggests that only a small number of children that are sexually abused will eventually tell an adult about the abuse. Disclosure of abuse may increase the likelihood of psychological problems, such as anxiety and difficulties in coping. Studies seem to suggest that telling about the abuse, at least during childhood, may be neither easy nor beneficial for the children that disclose. The purposes of this study were to identify how key demographic variables and specific child sexual assault (CSA) incident characteristics were related to whether adolescents told someone about their alleged assaults; and to investigate whether there might be differences in the correlates of CSA disclosure for boys and girls and for adolescents of different racial/ethnic groups. A national household probability sample of 4,023 adolescents was interviewed by telephone about childhood experiences, including CSA history. The results showed that most adolescents told someone about their alleged CSA incidents. Approximately one-third of the adolescents stated that their assault had been reported to the authorities. About two-thirds of the adolescent victims reported that they had told another person about their sexual assault. The perception of life threat was related to an increased likelihood of disclosure. Degree of physical injury experienced, penetration, and whether the assault was a single or series incident were unrelated to telling. For African-American adolescents, penetration was a significant correlate of disclosure. Sustaining an injury during the assault reduced the likelihood of disclosure for the girls and for the European American adolescents. Sixty percent of adolescents that were physically injured also reported life threat. Girls were significantly more likely to tell someone than were their male counterparts. African-American adolescents were less likely to tell than were European American adolescents. Victims assaulted by a relative were the most likely to disclose. Victims assaulted by their fathers were less likely to disclose than those assaulted by a relative. 6 tables, 37 references

Date Published: November 1, 2003