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Over 3.3 Million Women In The US Say Their First Sexual Experience Was Rape

Over 3.3 Million Women In The US Say Their First Sexual Experience Was Rape

The study revealed that for 1 out of 16 women living in the US, their first sexual encounter was a forced one.

For 1 out of 16 women living in the US, their first sexual encounter was a forced one. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed 13,310 American women between the ages of 18 to 44 and found that 6.5% of the respondents were either forced or coerced into having sexual intercourse for the first time.

This is equivalent to 3,351,733 women nationwide. As per the findings, women who were compelled into first-time sex were more likely to have an unwanted first pregnancy or abortion, in addition to other gynecological and general health issues. 

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"For more than 3.3 million reproductive-age women (1 in 16 in this age group), the first experience with intercourse was involuntary. A practicing physician is likely to see several patients each week who have experienced this form of trauma," says the research team from Department of Medicine and Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Cambridge Health Alliance, Cambridge; Harvard Medical School, Boston; and City University of New York, Hunter College, New York.

In order to calculate the "prevalence of forced sexual initiation" among women and girls in the U.S., the team conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 13,310 women respondents and the 2011-2017 National Survey of Family Growth.



 

The National Survey of Family Growth is a nation-wide survey conducted by the CDC to collect data on factors affecting "birth and pregnancy rates, adoption, and maternal and infant health."

It also focuses on collecting data which includes information regarding marriage and divorce, forced sexual intercourse, pregnancy, infertility, family life, use of contraception, and general and reproductive health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes "forced sexual initiation"- an unwanted first sexual intercourse that is physically forced or coerced- as a distinct form of sexual violence. Furthermore, they found forced sexual initiation to be a global problem whose prevalence varies widely between 0.8% to 38%.

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"Numerous recent high-profile allegations of sexual violence and the social movements that gained momentum in response to those events - such as #MeToo, #TIMESUP- have increased public awareness of the high frequency of sexual violence against girls and women in the US. Sexual violence is defined by the National Institute of Justice as a constellation of crimes, including sexual harassment, nonpenetrative sexual assault, and rape. More than 40% of women have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, of whom half have been raped. Exposure to sexual violence has been associated with a wide range of adverse health outcomes," says the study. 

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After analyzing those data the study found that around three-fourths (74.7%) of women who were forced into first-time sex were actually a minor, i.e. under the age of 18, at the time of sexual initiation.

Furthermore, 6.8% of the respondents who reported forced first-time sex were either 10-year-old or under as compared to 0.1% of women who volunteered to have sex during their first experience.

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"Women who experienced forced sexual initiation were somewhat more likely to be born outside the United States (21.5% versus 16.1%) and have incomes below the poverty level (35.1% versus 24.9%) and less likely to be college-educated (23.9% versus 31.7%); however, as presented in these data, all demographic groups reported substantial rates of forced sexual initiation," the study says.

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Describing the kind of coercion used by the assailant who forced sexual initiation on these female respondents, 50% of them were reportedly "larger or older" than their victims, 56.4% of them described experiencing verbal pressure, and 46.3% were held down, say experts.

While 22.0% of the women were given a drug, 26.5% of them were physically threatened and 25.1% were actually harmed physically. Speaking of the health impacts on women forced to have first-time sex, researchers said the respondents showed an increased rate of subsequent adverse reproductive, general health, gynecologic, and functional outcomes.

Experts are of the view that such forced sexual initiation could be an important independent risk factor for adverse physical and mental health consequences.



 

 

"United States studies have found elevated rates of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV risk behaviors associated with forced sexual initiation," says the study.

Researchers revealed that the mechanisms through which forced sexual initiation may be associated with adverse health outcomes is not clear. Some previous studies have equated forced sexual initiation with childhood sexual abuse, which is known to be connected with adverse mental and physical health consequences.

However, the current findings suggest that adverse outcomes of forced sexual initiation irrespective of the age at which it is experienced. "Women who experience early sexual violence are at increased risk of repeated sexual victimization later in life, which may suggest that our findings reflect the composite outcomes of repeated sexual assault," says the research. 



 

 

The research calls for the formulation of public health strategies in order to prevent forced sexual initiation and other forms of sexual abuse. "A substantial proportion of American women may experience forced sexual initiation, and the individual and public health implications of this exposure are far-reaching. Although additional research is needed, physicians should incorporate trauma-informed measures into their practices while advocating the reduction of structural causes of sexual violence," the study says.

Providing a recommendation in the "Invited Commentary" section, the experts write: "When taking a sexual history, clinicians should consider asking patients about their first sexual experience, including any force or coercion surrounding this event, to provide validation and education when needed, facilitate any necessary referrals, and address any negative health consequences."



 

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