Study finds Black, low-income adolescents vulnerable to sexual assault

Monday, November 26, 2018 - 6:37pm

A recent study by medical researchers at the University of Michigan is a first attempt to fill a gap in empirical evidence on sexual misconduct among age groups other than college students. Nationwide, research has focused primarily on those 18 to 22 years old. Dr. Quyen Epstein-Ngo, a research assistant professor in the Injury Center of the Department of Emergency Medicine, recently led a research study focused on sexual misconduct in southeastern Michigan middle schools and high schools. The group of researchers collected their data from a socioeconomically and racially diverse range of schools.

“Our goal 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,” Epstein-Ngo said.

Among adolescents, the study found those most at risk for experiencing sexual violence were usually African American and attended schools in low socioeconomic districts. Additionally, students clinically diagnosed with mental health disorders, such as depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, were at a heightened risk.

The study found within its sample, adolescent sexual violence typically occurred between men and women; women were more likely to be the survivors of sexual violence and men were more likely to be the perpetrators. The researchers concluded “41.5% of adolescents reported opposite sex victimization versus 13.6% same-sex victimization, and 14.4% opposite sex perpetration versus 6.4% same sex perpetration.”

The researchers also found high school students reported engaging in sexual perpetration at a lower rate than middle schoolers. Though the study authors were unable to conclude a possible correlation between sexual violence and substance abuse, Epstein-Ngo still maintaned substance abuse should not be used to place any blame on survivors. Rather, Epstein-Ngo explained, the study was conducted with the goal of identifying which adolescents were most at risk so preventative measures could be implemented to reduce future assaults. 

“We learned that there is an imperative need for preventive mechanisms for sexual violence in low-resource communities where youth are at a higher risk of experiencing sexual violence.” Epstein-Ngo said. “Prevention efforts specifically focused on school settings in these areas may be particularly helpful in protecting youth from this potentially life-shattering violence.”

On campus, students are reporting more cases of sexual misconduct in the last five years. Last year, however, tracked with a decrease in University investigations since 2017, according to the 2018 Sexual Misconduct Report published by the Office for Institutional Equity.

Margaret Sheridan, a student activist involved with the Sexual Violence Education and Empowerment Division of the Panhellenic Peer Educators program and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, commented on the current campus climate regarding sexual assault.

“There is a stigma surrounding hookup culture on college campuses in which there is a pressure to become immersed in the status of the act, contributing to the rise of sexual assault as a whole,” Sheridan said.