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Rape Victimization and High Risk Sexual Behaviors: A Longitudinal Study of African-American Adolescent Females

Creative Commons 'BY-NC' version 4.0 license

Objectives: African-American women are affected by disproportionately high rates of violence and sexually transmitted infections (STI)/human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. It is imperative to address the intersection of these two urgent public health issues, particularly as these affect African-American adolescent girls. This study assessed the prevalence of rape victimization (RV) among a sample of African-American adolescent females and examined the extent to which participants with a history of RV engage in STI/HIV associated risk behaviors over a 12-month time period.

Methods: Three hundred sixty-seven African-American adolescent females ages 15-21, seeking sexual health services at three local teenager-oriented community health agencies in an urban area of the Southeastern United States, participated in this study. Participants were asked to complete an audio computer-assisted self-interview (ACASI) at baseline, six- and 12-month follow-up. We assessed sociodemographics, history of RV and sexual practices. At baseline, participants indicating they had experienced forced sex were classified as having a history of RV.

Results: Twenty-five percent of participants reported a history of RV at baseline. At six- and 12-months, victims of RV had significantly lower proportions of condom-protected sex (p=.008), higher frequency of sex while intoxicated (p=.005), more inconsistent condom use (p=.008), less condom use at last sex (p=.017), and more sex partners (p=.0001) than non-RV victims. Over the 12-month follow-up period, of those who did not report RV at baseline, 9.5% reported that they too had experienced RV at some point during the 12-month time frame.

Conclusion: African-American adolescent females who experience RV are engaging in more risky sexual behaviors over time than non-RV girls, thereby placing themselves at higher risk for contracting STIs. In light of the results from this unique longitudinal study, we discuss considerations for policies and guidelines targeting healthcare, law enforcement and educational and community settings. The complexities of RV screening in healthcare settings are examined as is the need for tighter collaboration between healthcare providers and law enforcement. Finally, we consider the role of prevention and intervention programs in increasing awareness about RV as well as serving as an additional safe environment for screening and referral. [West J Emerg Med. 2011;12(3):333-342.]

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