The Impact of Adolescent Sexual Victimization: Standardized Measures of Anxiety, Depression, and Behavioral Deviancy

Article excerpt

Standardized measures of depression, anxiety, and behavioral deviancy were administered to a nonclinical sample of 67 high school girls (M age = 16.3; SD = 1.28). In addition, an adolescent version of the Sexual Experiences Survey was administered to assess the history of peer sexual victimization. In this sample, 55.0% of the girls had experienced at least one sexual victimization, including 7.5% of them who had experienced completed forcible rape. Data were analyzed via multivariate analysis of variance and multiple regression. Sexually victimized girls scored significantly higher than nonvictimized girls on the Trait Anxiety Index and the Beck Depression Inventory, but not on the Antisocial Index of the Jesness Inventory. The extent of victimization contributed significantly to the prediction of both the depression score and the anxiety score. The clinical significance of the reported symptoms is discussed. Although the study was not based on a probability sample, the prevalence of rape was consistent with existing literature. Because the sample was limited to girls who have remained involved in social systems, the measured symptoms probably are a conservative estimate of retrospectively measured postassault standardized test scores among sexually victimized adolescents.

Sexual assault, particularly by acquaintances, is thought to be greatly underrepresented in official statistics (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1984). Likewise, clinical service records may not give an accurate estimate of sexual assault prevalence because of evidence in some samples of victims that just a small minority (5%) sought crisis intervention services (Koss, 1985). Consequently, researchers are increasingly turning their attention to those victims who can be identified in nonclinical samples. For example, Ageton (1983) interviewed a probability sam ple of adolescent girls, aged 11 to 17, yearly for several years. The rate at which female teenagers reported a sexual assault by peers was 5 to 11% per year. Hall and Flannery (1984) conducted a random digit dial telephone survey of 508 adolescents. They reported that 12% of the girls had experienced "rape or sexual assault."

Although there has been considerable attention paid to the traumatic aftereffects of rape on adult victims, the impact of these assaults on adolescents has only begun to be described. The most comprehensive study was reported by Ageton (1983), who assessed the emotional reactions of adolescent victims 1 week and 1 year postassault. Although feelings of anger and guilt were present initially, these feelings did not remain 1 year later. At 1 year postassault, depression was predominate. In addition to an increase in negative feelings after an assault, behavioral disturbances were also noted to occur, including running away and alcohol abuse (Ageton, 1983). In another sample of victims attending school, 41% of them either stopped school or abruptly changed schools (Burgess & Holm-strom, 1976). Neither of these studies involved standardized psychological tests that could be compared to clinical norms, however, and only the former study included a matched comparison sample of nonvictimized girls. The present study was an extension of previous research and included the following salient features: (a) the use of behaviorally specific questions to screen for the presence of several degrees of sexual victimization; (b) the use of standardized psychological tests to assess anxiety, depression, and behavioral disruption; and (c) inclusion in the design of a comparison sample of nonvictimized girls.

METHODS

Subjects

Participants were 67 Ohio adolescent girls solicited from several groups and organizations, including two college preparation programs for high school students, a peer counseling program, and two health classes in a middle class suburban high school. Because the participants were minors, parental permission was obtained, and the final sample represented a consent rate of 25%. …