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Precocious and Problematic? The Consequences of Youth Violent Victimization for Adolescent Sexual Behavior

Abstract

Purpose

Violent victimization is concentrated in adolescence and is disruptive to both the timing and sequencing of key life course transitions that occur during this developmental stage. Drawing on recent work establishing the interpersonal consequences of youth victimization, we examined the effect of violent victimization on adolescents’ timing of sexual debut and involvement in additional sexual risk behaviors (multiple sexual partnering and inconsistent contraceptive use).

Methods

This study relied on secondary data analysis of 10,070 youth from four waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). To predict sexual debut and subsequent sexual risk-taking, analyses were limited to youth not yet sexually active at their wave I interview.

Results

Findings from Cox proportional hazards models, negative binomial regression, and repeated measures ordinal logistic regression showed that adolescent victims of violence initiated sex sooner than non-victims and accumulated more sexual partners, but patterns varied by age at victimization. Youth victimized in late adolescence displayed an accelerated trajectory of sexual activity while youth victimized in early adolescence were less likely to debut or engage in other sexual risk behaviors (although younger victims were more likely to engage in other deviant activities).

Conclusion

Sexual activity is a normative part of adolescent development, yet this study finds that violent victimization may disrupt the timing of this life course task, exacerbating deviant risk-taking and undermining youths’ subsequent well-being. This study also highlights the importance of life course criminology’s attention to timing in lives, given that the consequences of victimization varied by the age when it occurred.

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Notes

  1. We used the wave III or wave IV reports of age at debut over any wave II reports because of inconsistency in measurement. Specifically, at wave II, respondents were asked about debut timing following questions concerning sexual touching and a comparison of reports between waves II and III suggests that a sizeable number of respondents may have conflated sexual intercourse and sexual touching as a result. However, for the 168 respondents who dropped out of the panel after wave II but who experienced sexual debut by wave II, we had to rely on wave II reports. Preliminary analyses excluding these respondents (not shown) did not differ in substantive ways from the findings including them presented here.

  2. A limitation is that respondents were not asked the timing of first victimization. This is less a methodological problem for the early adolescent subsample because they were just entering the period of increased victimization risk. It poses a challenge, however, for the late adolescent subsample because it may contain youth first victimized during late adolescence and those victimized in both early and late adolescence. This conflation should work against detecting significant effects between YVV in early and late adolescence, and thus, our findings should be somewhat conservative.

  3. As Allison [7] has noted, multiple imputation routines are ill-equipped to deal with complex event-timing data and indeed an average of 84 respondents (1.09%) in each imputed dataset had implausible values for age at first sex that resulted in negative time to debut; we set age at first sex for these respondents to be equal to age at wave I.

  4. Analyses performed on unimputed data produced substantively similar findings.

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Acknowledgments

This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website (http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth). No direct support was received from Grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.

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Warner, T.D., Warner, D.F. Precocious and Problematic? The Consequences of Youth Violent Victimization for Adolescent Sexual Behavior. J Dev Life Course Criminology 5, 554–586 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40865-019-00122-7

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Keywords

  • Adolescence
  • Victimization
  • Sexual debut
  • Sexual risk-taking
  • Life-course criminology