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1 in 16 women reports first sexual experience as assault

A study released today found that for 1 in 16 women in the US — extrapolated to about 3.3 million when reflected on the US population — reported that their first sexual experiences were assault, as in forced or coerced. The research, which was conducted from 2011 to 2017 and published in JAMA Internal Medicine, also found that forced sexual initiation is “associated with multiple adverse reproductive and general health outcomes.” To be clear, “forced sexual initiation,” for the purpose of this study, meant non-consensual vaginal intercourse, a.k.a rape. According to the research, these women continue to experience the negative health impacts of this for the rest of their lives.

The study surveyed 13,310 women aged 18 - 44 from a broad range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The average age of women who experienced forced sexual initiation was 15.6, while the average age of sexual initiation for women who were not forced or coerced was 17.4. These findings imply that that girls whose first sexual encounters are non-consensual are having those experiences almost two years sooner that girls who choose intercourse with their first sexual partners. The study notes that the developmental stage of the girls who were raped is, “a time of heightened physical and psychological vulnerability.”

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The average age for the men involved in forced sexual initiation was 27 years old, six years older than the age of men who had consensual initiatory sex with women. At their base, the findings essentially show that for 3.3 million American female children, losing their virginity means being raped by adult men.

Another poignant finding: Women who had experienced forced sexual initiation were more likely to be people of color, less likely to have been born in the United States, and less likely to have completed formal education. This is more evidence that socioeconomically marginalized populations were also “placed at unique risk for adverse reproductive health outcomes, such as increased sexual risk behaviors, increased rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted first pregnancies,” according to the study.

Indeed, women who were sexually assaulted during their first sexual experience were twice as likely to consider themselves in poor health, 10% more likely to “have difficulty completing tasks outside the home,” and more likely to have had an abortion, reproductive issues, or problems with ovulation and/or menstruation, the research found. The study concluded that, “the ubiquity of forced sexual initiation should encourage those providing clinical care to women to develop tools to identify and treat trauma.”

If you suspect that you or someone you care about is experiencing sexual abuse, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. If you or someone you care about needs counseling or legal advice about sexual abuse, please call the Sexual Assult Counseling Center at (406) 586-3333.