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Address Violence in Teen Pregnancy

We must recognize the role of violence in girls’ reproductive journeys, and emphasize the importance of effective, evidence-based, gender-specific programs and interventions to protect girls from abuse and to heal them if or when it occurs.

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Underneath the discourse about the educational strategies needed to prevent teen pregnancy lies a much harder and complex issue: Violence in girls’ lives leaves them at risk for teen pregnancy—especially girls of color.

A significant correlation exists between childhood sexual abuse and teen pregnancy. An estimated 60 percent of teen girls’ first pregnancies are preceded by experiences of molestation, rape, or attempted rape. In one study, between 30 and 44 percent of teen mothers were victims of rape or attempted rape, and up to 20 percent of girls were pregnant as the direct result of rape.

Other research findings compare sexually abused pregnant teens to pregnant teens who have not suffered sexual abuse. The sexually abused girls initiated intercourse a year earlier than their peers and engaged in a wide variety of high-risk behaviors, including substance abuse. The average age of first intercourse for abused girls is 13.8, in contrast to the national average of 16.2. Only 28 percent of the abused girls used birth control at first intercourse, compared to 74 percent of girls in the general population.

Girls affected by sexual violence need support to reclaim their bodies and to make reproductive health decisions from a place of strength and health. Strength-based programs such as PACE Center for Girls in Florida and Girls Educational and Mentoring Services in New York seek to restore abused girls’ self-worth and alleviate the injuries of sexual violence.

The alarming rates of teenage pregnancy in the lives of girls broken by sexual violence—so many of whom are girls of color—require us to revisit the current discourse on teen pregnancy. We must recognize the role of violence in girls’ reproductive journeys, and emphasize the importance of effective, evidence-based, gender-specific programs and interventions to protect girls from abuse and to heal them if or when it occurs. That means any campaign to reduce teen pregnancy must also become a campaign to reduce the unacceptable levels of violence against girls and to give all girls the opportunity to realize their full personhood, equality, dignity, and worth.

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