The role of victimization in adolescents’ sexual health: A longitudinal study

« Exposure to victimization in childhood and adolescence is a widespread social and health issue in Canada. In a representative sample of more than 23,000 Canadians aged 18 years and older, the rate of child sexual abuse, physical abuse, or exposure to domestic violence was found to be 32%. Victimization is associated with a host of negative short- and long-term mental and physical health consequences, such as internalizing and externalizing problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, chronic pain and sexual revictimization. Although several studies have examined the consequences of childhood and adolescent victimization, progress in this area is hampered by important methodological limitations, such as the use of clinical samples, cross-sectional designs, and adult retrospective reports of victimization. Further, very little work has focused on sexuality, beyond sexual risk-taking.

The proposed longitudinal study will overcome prior methodological limitations by examining the effect of different types of victimization assessed at age 14 on the sexual health of adolescents aged 14-17 over a three-year period. In their high school classrooms, 4,000 community participants will complete standardized measures at baseline as well as one and two years later. We hypothesize that victimization assessed at Time 1 will significantly predict worse sexual health outcomes at two- and three-year follow-ups. Our interdisciplinary team of psychologists, sexologists and physicians specialized in victimization, adolescence, and sexuality is well positioned to carry out the proposed research, which has direct implications for the health of Canadians. Findings will generate novel longitudinal data concerning the relationship between childhood and adolescent victimization and sexual health, and will contribute to the identification of factors to be targeted in prevention and intervention programs aimed at improving adolescents’ sexual health. »