Prevention Science

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 403–415 | Cite as

Predicting the Emergence of Sexual Violence in Adolescence

  • Michele L. Ybarra
  • Richard E. Thompson


This study aims to report the epidemiology of sexual violence (SV) perpetration for both female and male youth across a broad age spectrum. Additionally, the etiology of SV perpetration is examined by identifying prior exposures that predict a first SV perpetration. Six waves of data were collected nationally online, between 2006 and 2012, from 1586 youth between 10 and 21 years of age. Five types of SV were assessed: sexual harassment, sexual assault, coercive sex, attempted rape, and rape. To identify how prior exposures may predict the emergence of SV in adolescence, parsimonious lagged multivariable logistic regression models estimated the odds of first perpetrating each of the five types of SV within the context of other variables (e.g., rape attitudes). Average age at first perpetration was between 15 and 16 years of age, depending on SV type. Several characteristics were more commonly reported by perpetrators than non-perpetrators (e.g., alcohol use, other types of SV perpetration and victimization). After adjusting for potentially influential characteristics, prior exposure to parental spousal abuse and current exposure to violent pornography were each strongly associated with the emergence of SV perpetration—attempted rape being the exception for violent pornography. Current aggressive behavior was also significantly implicated in all types of first SV perpetration except rape. Previous victimization of sexual harassment and current victimization of psychological abuse in relationships were additionally predictive of one’s first SV perpetration, albeit in various patterns. In this national longitudinal study of different types of SV perpetration among adolescent men and women, findings suggest several malleable factors that need to be targeted, especially scripts of inter-personal violence that are being modeled by abusive parents in youths’ homes and also reinforced by violent pornography. The predictive value of victimization for a subsequent first SV perpetration highlights the inter-relatedness of different types of violence involvement. Universal and holistic prevention programming that targets aggressive behaviors and violent scripts in inter-personal relationships is needed well before the age of 15 years.


Sexual violence Sexual harassment Rape Youth violence Longitudinal study 



Sexual violence


Harris Poll Online


Teen dating violence


Adjusted odds ratio


Generalized estimating equation



We would like to thank the entire Growing up with Media study team from the Center for Innovative Public Health Research (formerly Internet Solutions for Kids), Harris Interactive, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who contributed to different parts of the planning and implementation of the study. We also thank Ms. Carol Thompson and Ms. Gwendolyn Clemens for their efforts in formatting these data for analyses. Finally, we thank the families for their time and willingness to participate in this study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study was supported by Cooperative Agreement number U49/CE000206 and grant number 5R01CE001543 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and by grant number R01 HD083072 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Ch ild Health and Human Development. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee, with the Belmont Report, and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

11121_2017_810_MOESM1_ESM.docx (14 kb)
Table S1 (DOCX 13 kb).
11121_2017_810_MOESM2_ESM.docx (36 kb)
Table S2a (DOCX 36.0 kb).
11121_2017_810_MOESM3_ESM.docx (31 kb)
Table S2b (DOCX 31.4 kb).
11121_2017_810_MOESM4_ESM.docx (167 kb)
Figure 1 (DOCX 166 kb).


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Innovative Public Health ResearchSan ClementeUSA
  2. 2.Johns Hopkins Biostatistics CenterJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA

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