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New Study Links Past Sex Abuse, Teenage Pregnancy

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Nearly two-thirds of all teenage girls who become pregnant may have been sexually abused as children, one of the first reports to study the possible relationship between these two problems has found.

The study, based on a survey of 535 pregnant and parenting teenagers in Washington State, found that 62 percent had had at least one unwanted sexual experience by their first pregnancy.

The trauma associated with being sexually victimized, suggest the authors, researchers from the University of Washington and the Washington Alliance Concerned with School-Age Parents, may account for why a significant percentage of the 1 million girls who get pregnant each year do so, despite access to contraception and sex education.

"We suggest that a key factor in the conundrum of adolescent high-risk sexual behavior and adolescent pregnancy and repeat pregnancies--sexual victimization and abuse--has been overlooked,'' they write. "Although it is premature to state a causal relationship between sexual victimization and adolescent pregnancy, this link deserves further exploration.''

"For a large number of pregnant adolescents, a history of physical maltreatment and sexual victimization may have disrupted their developmental processes and undermined their basic competence,'' they argue.

Nearly 44 percent of the girls in the survey said they had been raped, and 42 percent reported being the victims of attempted rape. More than half said that another person had forced them to touch their own body or his body in a sexual manner.

The abused girls said they were, on average, 9.7 years old when they were first victimized, and 54 percent said they were abused by a family member. Eleven percent of the girls who said they had been raped reported becoming pregnant as a result of the rape.

Compared with teenagers who had become pregnant but who had not been abused, the victimized girls became sexually active at a younger age, were more likely to have used drugs and alcohol, and were less likely to use birth control.

They were also about three times more likely to maltreat their children, the study found.--E.F.

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