Teen Sexual Assaults Highlight Need for Prevention Programs

Nearly one in 10 young adults admit to committing sexual assault, a new study shows.

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Bystander intervention programs in high schools can teach teens to identify situations that could lead to sexual assault, and speak up.
Bystander intervention programs in high schools can teach teens to identify situations that could lead to sexual assault, and speak up.

Daisy Coleman captured national headlines last week as the world learned of an alleged sexual assault of the Missouri teen, then a freshman at Maryville High School, and her 13-year-old best friend.

The incident took place in January 2012. There was alcohol involved, and several popular, older boys, according to reports, echoing another high-profile, small-town rape case involving students at Steubenville High School in Ohio.

Some parents may view these as isolated events, unlikely to occur to or involve their children, but sexual violence among teens is more common than many would like to believe.

[Read more about the Maryville sexual assault case.]

Nearly one in 10 young adults admit to committing some type of sexual violence, ranging from unwanted touching or kissing to rape, according to a study published online this month by JAMA Pediatrics that included survey responses from 1,058 people ages 14 to 21.

The violence overwhelmingly occurred in the context of a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, with 75 percent of offenders saying the victim was someone they dated. Fifty percent of the perpetrators said it was the victim's fault.

Offenders started young, most first committing an act at age 16, and were more likely to use coercion than physical force against their victims, the study notes.

[Find out what to do if your teen is a bully.]

While the findings are disturbing, the report's authors say the information should serve as a wake-up call for school officials.

"Because victim blaming appears to be common while perpetrators experiencing consequences is not, there is urgent need for high school (and middle school) programs aimed at supporting bystander intervention," the authors wrote.

Such programs teach teens to recognize situations that could result in a sexual assault, such as a friend putting something in someone's drink at a party, and encourages them to speak up or contact authorities.

[Learn more about sexual harassment in high schools.]

Intervention programs such as Mentors in Violence Prevention, which focuses on how student-athletes can use their status as social leaders to influence peer behaviors, and the Green Dot campaign discourage victim blaming and aim to change the culture surrounding sexual violence.

Mobile apps can also help students take action when they witness sexual violence.

Circle of 6, which won the White House Apps Against Child Abuse Challenge in 2011, gives students a "discreet way to reach out for bystander assistance," according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Users of the app, available on iPhones and Android devices, select six contacts and use icons such as a car or phone to tell friends to pick them up or call them, or an exclamation point to call local emergency contacts.

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