Male and Female Adolescents' Perceived Interpersonal Communication Skills According to History of Sexual Coercion

Article excerpt

Sexual coercion (the act of forcing, pressuring, or tricking persons into a sexual act against their will) is now known to be a common occurrence. An estimated 40% of girls are sexually coerced during childhood, almost half of women in college and in the workplace experience sexual harassment, and 25% of women are rape victims (Benson, Charlton, & Goodhart, 1992; Davis, Peck, & Storment, 1993; Tanzman, 1992). These data are derived from surveys, interviews, and crime statistics for young adults and older women.

Coercive sexual experiences are not, of course, confined to women. Although less frequently discussed, men may be forced to do things sexually against their will. For male adolescents, the percentage of boys reporting unwanted sexual activity range from 11 to 15% (Davis, Peck, & Storment, 1993; Erickson & Rapkin, 1991). College age men report higher rates of experience with sexual coercion (34%) possibly as a function of having had more time in which to be subjected to unwanted sexual activity (Struckman & Struckman, 1994).

For both sexes, the evidence points to negative short- and longer-term consequences of unwanted sexual experiences (Gryl, Stith, & Bird, 1991). Young men with a history of sexual coercion report high risk behaviors and problems with school (Erikson & Rapkin, 1991) Sense of self may be affected by these experiences, leaving the individual uncertain about interpersonal relationships. Over time, people subjected to more extreme types of sexual coercion may evidence serious problems in their interpersonal lives sometimes with grave implications for their health as seen in the association between a history of child abuse and subsequent risk for HIV/AIDS (Albert & Benjack, 1991; Zierler et al., 1991). These patterns are affirmed in a recently completed national survey in which men and women who had been sexually touched as children by an adult were more likely to have in excess of 10 sex partners, to engage in group sex, to identify themselves as gay or bisexual, and to express difficulties in sexuality (Michael, 1994).

The prevalence of sexual coercion, and the magnitude of the impact of sexually coercive experiences on individual development recommends more indepth study of this phenomenon. In particular, more information is needed on how to assist young people recently subjected to different kinds of sexually related coercion. More information is also needed on the male experience since relatively few studies have focused on men.

The purpose of this study was to explore further the parameters of male and female adolescents' experiences with aspects of sexual coercion and related dimensions of interpersonal communication and psychological status with two samples of adolescents. The survey was sponsored by a private family planning clinic with a long history of individual reproductive counseling services to young women and preventive health education presentations in the public schools. The staff sought broader empirical information on adolescents' experience with sexual coercion in order to provide more tailored counseling for youth with prior negative experiences with sexual coercion and for preventive education for youth reporting having had no problems with this issue.

METHOD

Sample

Two groups of adolescents participated in this study. The first sample of 61 females 18 years or younger were recruited through a private adolescent family planning clinic between mid-May and mid-July, 1993. Founded in 1973, the clinic is a private, non-profit agency providing confidential medical and educational counseling and referral services to adolescents from the north Chicago suburbs. In 1994, 97% of the 800 clients were female and resided in 18 contiguous communities. The clinic is staffed with 11 volunteer physicians, 12 volunteer nurses, and 55 lay volunteer support workers.

The second sample of 183 (54% female and 46% male) was obtained from all classes in grades nine through twelve at a private suburban high school. …