To Tell or Not to Tell: Lifestyle Impacts on Whether Adolescents Tell about Violent Victimization

Article excerpt

Adolescent sexual and physical victimization is an issue of serious social concern in our society. This study examines the predictors of whether juveniles tell about these experiences. We specifically question whether the adolescents' lifestyles inhibit victims from telling anyone about the assault and determine if such predictors vary by sex. Using data from the National Survey of Adolescents, we find that the victims' lifestyles do predict help-seeking but that the importance of these measures varies by the type of victimization and the sex of the adolescent. Lifestyles influence reporting the event more consistently for victims of sexual assaults than physical assaults. In addition, while several lifestyle measures are significant for sexually victimized girls, the context of the event is more important for boys who are sexually victimized. Aspects of the adolescents' lifestyles are not as important for telling about physical victimization.

Keywords: victims; routines; sexual assault; physical assault

The experiences of physical and sexual violence can be very traumatic for adolescents, leading to a variety of developmental, psychological, and behavioral problems. Adolescent victims often suffer symptoms of depression or anxiety (Cooley-Quille, Boyd, Frantz, & Walsh, 2001; Ezzell, Swenson, & Brondino, 2000; Kendall-Tackett, Williams, & Finkelhor, 1993; Morrison & Clavenna-Valleroy, 1998; Wilson & Rosenthal, 2003), and experience psychological trauma or posttraumatic stress disorder (Briere & Elliott, 1994; Flannery, Singer, & Wester, 2003; Kilpatrick et al., 2000; Terr, 1991). Juvenile victims are also at greater risk for suicide (Berenson, Wiemann, & McCombs, 2001; Vermeiren, Ruchkin, Leckman, Deboutte, & Schwab-Stone, 2002), and engage in risky sexual behaviors (Berenson et al., 2001). Victims also have increased drug and alcohol problems, both in adolescence and into adulthood (Berenson et al., 2001; Caetano, Field, & Nelson, 2003; Kaplan, Pelcovitz, Salzinger, Weiner, & Mandel, 1998; Vermeiren et al., 2003). In addition, adolescent victims are often offenders in acts of violence. They are more likely to start fights or bully other kids (Schwartz & Proctor, 2000), and report higher participation in violent crimes and other forms of delinquency (Pagan, 2003; Herrera & McCloskey, 2003; Nofziger & Kurtz, 2005). To minimize these negative outcomes, it is crucial to get help and needed services to adolescent victims.

While schools attempt to prevent victimization of their students by providing programs to teach students how to avoid and respond to abuse (Dake, Price, & Murnan, 2003; Finkelhor, Asdigian, & Dziuba-Leatherman, 1995; Rispens, Aleman, & Goudena, 1997), getting help after an assault is still dependent on the victim bringing the incident to light. Studies of mandated reporters such as physicians indicate that these reporters only account for a very small percentage of cases of suspected abuse (American Academy of Family Physicians, 1989). Therefore, many cases of abuse or other assaults are not discovered unless the juvenile tells someone. Unfortunately, many adolescent victims never tell anyone (Bolen, 2001; Cermak & Molidor, 1996; Finkelhor, Wolak, & Berliner, 2001). Better understanding what leads juveniles to tell about their victimization can assist programs to better reach juveniles who may have suffered such an experience.

This study presents a model for understanding why juveniles may not report their victimization by focusing on the adolescent victim's own involvement in deviant activities. We propose that participation in deviant lifestyles will decrease the likelihood of reporting victimization. Juveniles who routinely encounter crime and violence in their lives may come to accept this as normal or may believe that they are in some measure to blame for their own victimization. This proposed model is grounded within lifestyle (Hindelang, Gottfredson, & Garofalo, 1978) and routine activities (Cohen & Felson, 1979) theories. …