A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found there is an unprecedented wave of grief and sadness among teen girls, revealing a surprising statistic: In 2021, nearly 20 percent said they had been victims of violent sexual behavior . He said more than one in 10 had been raped.
While women of all ages have endured a disproportionate number of sexual assaults over a longer period of time than men, a closer look at the CDC’s data reveals that in just two years the number of young girls who have had sex has nearly doubled. There is an increase of 200,000.
The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey is administered to more than 17,000 US high school students every other year. Based on responses in 2019, an estimated 850,000 high school girls reported that they had been raped. By 2021, this estimate rises to more than 1 million.
The agency’s chief medical officer, Dr. Debra Houry, said she was disappointed but not surprised by the sharp increase.
“Sexual violence against girls has been a widespread problem for a long time,” Houry said. “We’re not making the progress we need to.”
The percentage of boys reporting rape in 2021 has remained the same since 2011 – 4 percent.
The CDC survey did not ask teens about the circumstances of the assaults or where they occurred.
While it is known that sexual assaults happen in schools, most teens spent most of 2020 and 2021 at home due to the COVID pandemic.
How the pandemic increased vulnerability
And home isn’t always a safe haven for young people.
“A lot of sexual assault and sexual abuse happen from people that youth know, whether it’s family or close relationships,” said Dr. Willow Jenkins, medical director of emergency and counseling contact psychiatry at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “The pandemic did not limit the exposure of these people, but in some cases lockdown at home increased the risk.”
The pandemic increased the vulnerability of adolescents to violence in other ways as well. Distance schooling separated them from their friends and trusted teachers or coaches with whom they might have been able to seek help or advice.
Children spent an unusual amount of time online on social media.
Executive Director Emily Miles said, “We have heard from several rape crisis programs we work with in New York City, and several youth programs, that rates of cybersexual violence have increased dramatically during the pandemic in particular. ” NYC Alliance Against Sexual Harassment.
Cyber sexual violence includes sexual harassment and online stalking, as well as repeated messages and threats of sexual assault.
Sex ed in schools, if it was ever provided before the pandemic, was either discontinued or cut all together as teachers tried to focus on reading and math basics.
Alcohol and drug use increased among adults. Families lost their jobs. Stressed moms, dads and other caregivers were more exposed to verbal insults, humiliation and other forms of emotional abuse during the height of lockdowns in 2020, said the CDC’s previous report on Adolescent Behavior and Experiences.
“There is a dizzying disruption of the usual kinds of safety nets for our young people,” said Dr. Elizabeth Miller, a violence prevention researcher and director of adolescent and young adult medicine at UPMC, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and the University of Pittsburgh. School of medicine “When there is this level of structural and social disruption in the lives of children and youth, there is increased exposure to violence of all kinds.”
The 2021 CDC report also found that girls and boys were generally similar in saying they had been bullied or injured at school (6 percent and 7 percent, respectively).
But girls were more likely than boys to say they were too afraid to go to school because they felt unsafe either in class or on their way to and from school.
Looking deeper, the increase in girls reporting assaults may reflect a growing ease and empowerment in speaking up.
“Since the MeToo movement, I think more people are speaking up about it,” said Allie Hinkle, a 17-year-old high school senior from Charlotte, NC.
Still, she said, “It’s very difficult.”
Hinkle believes the 2021 CDC report underestimates the number of teen girls reporting sexual assaults.
“It’s just people who are coming forward, but there are a lot of people who are very scared,” he said.
For some young women, the movement has provided support and community, Miles said.
“But on the other hand there are also incredibly loud voices that stigmatize and harm survivors when they come forward,” Miles said.
The CDC’s Houry, who has been a sexual violence researcher, said emphatically: “We want to be clear: Girls are not to blame.”
elementary education is key
More than half of women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. The majority occurs before age 25, Hauri said.
“The patterns that occur in colleges are included in middle school and high school,” Miles said. “Unless we’re able to actually have those conversations first, we’re going to keep going through this same cycle of violence over and over again.”
The CDC report called for an increase in school programs such as sex education to help curb sexual violence. The Guttmacher Institute, a group that advocates for reproductive rights and health, says that just 38 states and Washington, D.C. require sex ed in schools. However, not all sex ed classes have the same requirements.
“We really don’t have evidence-based, supportive, trauma-informed education on a large scale in the United States. And it’s especially needed given what we’re seeing, at this particular time in history,” This type of curriculum is known as comprehensive sex education, said LB Klein, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Comprehensive sex education “isn’t just about condom use,” Miles said. It’s about “educating our youth about healthy relationships and consent, positive consent, and how to navigate those conversations from the beginning.”
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center encourages these types of conversations in kindergarten with age-appropriate language.
One of the ways to do this is to “help youth recognize when they have been harmed and have an idea of what the warning signs are in relationships,” Klein said.
Neil Irwin, executive director of MCSR (formerly known as Men Can Stop Rape), said boys need wider education, despite the alarming rise in sexual assault among girls. The program’s mission is to show men how to view sexual violence as only a woman’s issue.
Irwin said, “Boys is loaded with images of unhealthy examples of humanity across the board, whether sexual or not.” “We need more resources for boys.”
What can parents do?
Jenkins, of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, has advice for parents who have no idea when or how to approach the topic of sexual violence with their teen.
“It’s best to be honest, be candid and be really candid. Our kids know about this. They’re living it. They have friends going through it. It’s not a secret,” Jenkins said. “Talking about sexual assault doesn’t put someone at a higher risk of experiencing those things.”
Oury encourages mothers, fathers and other trusted caregivers to use direct and appropriate language, such as ‘We want to make sure you are safe. You shouldn’t be forced to do anything you don’t want to do. If anything happens, come to us.’
Ask questions, Jenkins said, then listen to the answers. “Make sure your child or your youngster is talking more than you. No child likes lecture.
Above all, experts recommend keeping a strong, positive attitude.
UPMC’s Miller said, “Our kids are not broken.” “With the right support, we are all pulling together to say that our young people deserve more, and we have the resources, the love and the intention to do right by our young people, they will bounce back.”
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