Sexual assaults against adolescent girls are on the rise in 2021, according to a CDC report End-shutdown

the recent report of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who found an unprecedented wave of grief and sadness among adolescent girls discovered a startling statistic: In 2021, nearly 20 percent said they had been the victim of violent sexual behavior. More than one in 10 had been raped, they said.

While women of all ages have long endured a disproportionate amount of sexual assault compared to men, a closer look at the CDC data reveals that the number of young girls being forced into sex increased by nearly 200,000 in just two years.

The CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey is given to more than 17,000 US high school students every two years. Based on the 2019 responses, approximately 850,000 high school girls reported that they had been raped. By 2021, that estimate has ballooned to more than 1 million.

The agency’s medical director, Dr. Debra Houry, said she was discouraged by the steep climb, but not surprised.

“Sexual violence has been a pervasive problem among girls for quite some time,” Houry said. “We’re not making the progress we need to.”

The percentage of boys who reported being raped in 2021 has remained the same (4 percent) since 2011.

The CDC survey did not ask teens about the circumstances of the assaults or where they occurred.

While sexual assaults have been known to occur in schools, most teens spent most of 2020 and 2021 at home due to the covid pandemic.

How the pandemic increased vulnerability

And home is not always a safe haven for the young.

“A lot of sexual assault and abuse occurs by people known to young people, either in the family or in close relationships,” said Dr. Willough Jenkins, medical director of consultation and emergency liaison psychiatry at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “The pandemic did not limit exposure to these individuals, but in some cases increased exposure due to home closures.”

The pandemic also increased adolescents’ vulnerability to violence in other ways. Distance schooling tended to leave them isolated from friends and trusted teachers or coaches with whom they might have been able to seek help or advice.

The children spent an unusual amount of time online, on social media.

“We have heard from various rape crisis programs that we work with throughout New York City, and from various youth programs specifically, that rates of cyber violence have increased dramatically over the course of the pandemic,” said Emily Miles, executive director. of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault.

Cyber ​​violence includes online sexual harassment and stalking, as well as repeated messages and threats of sexual assault.

Sex education in schools, if it was ever provided before the pandemic, was reduced or eliminated entirely as teachers tried to focus on the basics of reading and math.

Alcohol and drug use increased among adults. Families lost their jobs. Stressed-out moms, dads and other caregivers unleashed verbal insults, put-downs and other forms of emotional abuse during the height of lockdown in 2020, teens said in an earlier CDC report on teen behavior and experiences.

“There’s a dizzying disruption of the usual kinds of safety nets for our youth,” said Dr. Elizabeth Miller, a violence prevention researcher and director of adolescent and young adult medicine at UPMC, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “When there is this level of structural and social disruption in the lives of children and youth, exposure to all forms of violence increases.”

The 2021 CDC report also found that girls and boys overall were equal in saying they had been threatened or hurt at school (6 percent and 7 percent, respectively).

But girls were more likely than boys to say they were too afraid to go to school because they felt unsafe in class or while traveling to and from school.

Digging deeper, increases in girls reporting assault may reflect greater ease and empowerment to speak up.

“Since the MeToo movement, I feel like more people are talking about it,” said Ellie Hinkle, a 17-year-old high school senior from Charlotte, NC.

Still, he said, “it’s super hard.”

Hinkle believes the number of teens reporting sexual assault in the 2021 CDC report is an underestimate.

“It’s just people showing up, but there are a lot of people who are too scared,” he said.

For some young women, the movement has provided support and community, Miles said.

“But there are also incredibly strong voices on the other side that stigmatize and hurt survivors when they come forward,” Miles said.

The CDC’s Houry, who has been a sexual violence investigator, said emphatically: “We want to be clear: the girls are not to blame.”

Early education is key

More than half of women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Most occur before the age of 25, Houry said.

“The patterns that occur in colleges are ingrained in middle and high school,” Miles said. “Unless we can have those conversations sooner, we’re going to continue this same cycle of violence over and over again.”

The CDC report called for an increase in school programs such as sex education to help curb sexual violence. The Guttmacher Institute, a group that advocates for reproductive rights and health, says only 38 states and Washington, DC require sex education in schools. However, not all sex education classes have the same requirements.

“We really don’t have that strong evidence-based, supportive, trauma-informed education at scale in the United States. And at this particular time in history, it’s especially necessary given what we’re seeing,” said LB Klein, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Such a curriculum would be included in what is known as comprehensive sexual education.

Comprehensive sex education “isn’t just about condom use,” Miles said. It’s about “educating our youth about healthy relationships and consent, affirmative consent, and how to navigate those conversations early on.”

he National Sexual Violence Resource Center encourage these kinds of conversations to start with age-appropriate language in kindergarten.

One way to do that is to “help young people recognize when they’ve been hurt and get a sense of what those warning signs are in relationships,” Klein said.

Despite worrying increases in sexual assaults among girls, boys also need a well-rounded education, said Neil Irvin, executive director of MCSR (formerly known as Men Can Stop Rape). The mission of the program is to show men that they do not see sexual violence as an exclusive problem for women.

“Kids are inundated with images of unhealthy examples of humanity across the board, whether it’s sexual or not,” Irvin said. “We need more resources for children.”

What can parents do?

Jenkins, of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, has advice for parents who may have no idea when or how to bring up sexual violence for their teens.

“It is better to be honest, to be direct and to be very clear. Our children know about this. They are living this. They have friends who are going through this. It’s not a secret,” Jenkins said. “Talking about sexual assault doesn’t put anyone at greater risk of experiencing those things.”

Houry encourages moms, dads, and other trusted caregivers to use direct and appropriate language, like “we want to make sure you’re safe.” You should never be forced to do something you don’t want to do. Come to us if something happens.

Ask questions, Jenkins said, then listen to the answers. “Make sure your child or youth does the talking more than you do. No child likes a sermon.”

Above all, the experts advised to maintain a strong and positive attitude.

“Our children are not broken,” said UPMC’s Miller. “With the right support, all of us coming together to say that our youth deserve more, and that we have the resources, the love and the intent to do the right thing for our youth, they will bounce back.”

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