Nearly One-Third Of Teen Girls Have Survived Sexual Violence

For many, the phrase "sexual violence" draws forth images of the scandals that have notoriously plagued college campuses for decades, but new evidence suggests that a large portion of teen girls will have to face these grim crimes even before their high school graduation. Now entering the final week of a notably controversy-dense National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, a disturbing new report from the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) released on April 19 revealed just how dramatic the damage may be.

The NWLC's study, conducted in January in partnership with Lake Research Partners, surveyed just over 1,000 girls ranging from ages 14 to 18, with an oversampling of Black, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, and LGBTQ-identifying young women. Of the teens surveyed, a jaw-dropping 31 percent (or roughly 311 of the 1,003 participants) reported having personally experienced sexual assault or violence in some form.

The report also disclosed the definition that had been provided to the study participants for reference, which described sexual assault/violence as being kissed or touched without having given consent, being physically forced to engage in sexual acts, or being coerced into engaging in sexual acts against their will in exchange for money or gifts. Violence, on the other hand, was defined as being deliberately injured by a significant other or a family member.

Indian women grips pole while holding sign at rape and sexual assault law protest
Protests against the Indian government's reaction to recent rape incidents in India. [Image by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images]

The stunning statistics did not end there. While 31 percent of girls reported having been survivors of crimes that fell under this general definitive umbrella, breaking the numbers down into specifics and comparing them amongst each other still amounted to results that packed a terrifying punch.

Of the entire pool of survey respondents, just over one in five (or roughly 21 percent) teen girls met the broader criteria specifically because they had described being touched or kissed without their consent. The numbers represented disproportionately highly amongst teenaged women of color and LGBTQ girls as well, with 38 percent of LGBTQ girls, 24 percent of Latinx girls, 23 percent of Native American girls, and 22 percent of Black girls having experienced non-consensual touching. Girls who had been the victims of sexual assault were also twice as likely to have reported surviving incidents of physical violence, either from a partner or a family member.

While only 6 percent of the study participants reported having been forced to engaged in sexual intercourse against their consent, this number also dramatically varied upwards for LGBTQ-identifying as well as nonwhite teen girls, with all of the statistics measured spiking even horrifically higher for girls who had experienced homelessness.

Woman holds sign reading end rape culture at International Women's Day demonstration in Oakland
March for International Women's Day. [Image by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images]

These demographic variances were not the only reflections of dark cultural patterns. The wide-scope report, which left no stone unturned, assessed everything from the socio-political discrimination faced by different groups of girls to symptoms demonstrating the survey takers mental health and well-being. In what was perhaps one of the most shocking conclusions from the study, 67 percent of all girls displayed symptoms correlating to post-traumatic stress disorder, with the unfortunate number increasing to a whopping 91 percent for survivors of sexual assault.

This survey served as just the first release in a series of reports dubbed the NWCA's "Let Her Learn: Stopping School Pushout" campaign, all of which primarily center around identifying prevalent factors that may be negatively impacting girls' chances for success in school. The overall findings of the series have already provided insight as to how different groups of girls may be more likely to face certain barriers and have revealed some deeply unsettling truths regarding the issues that could potentially impact all young women along the way.

[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]