Primary Sources: Does Running Away Increase a Girl's Risk of Sexual Assault After She Returns Home?

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Photograph of a runaway girl.

“The Influence of Running Away on the Risk of Female Sexual Assault in the Subsequent Year,” Violence and Victims, Vol. 26, No. 6, 2011.

What it’s about: Researchers wanted to know if running away increases a teen girl’s risk of being sexually assaulted in the year after she returns home. To find out, they looked at survey data on more than 5,000 girls ages 11 to 18. The data came from the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a national survey of U.S. teens.

Why read it: Many studies have found that runaway and homeless youth are very likely to be sexually assaulted or exploited while away from home. Other studies have shown that sexual abuse at home puts youth at risk of sexual violence when they become homeless. This is the first study to look at runaway girls’ risk of being sexually assaulted after they return home.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: The authors found that nearly 1 in 4 runaway girls had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. A smaller but significant portion (8 percent) were sexually assaulted in the year after they returned home (compared to 2 percent of girls who had never run away, over the same period of time).

The researchers also found that girls who ran away were more likely than their peers to have sex at an early age and to drink. Both of these factors increased girls’ likelihood of being sexually assaulted.

The findings highlight some of the things runaway girls need after they return home, the researchers say. For example, girls should get health checkups that look at their mental and sexual health and their histories of drug use and drinking. They should be asked about their reasons for leaving home and what they went through on their own. And parents should consider family counseling to address whatever triggered the young woman to run away.

Additional references: A previous Primary Sources looked at research into the link between childhood abuse and relationship violence.

The “Runaway and Homeless Youth and Relationship Violence Toolkit” provides insight into the ways organizations that work with runaway and homeless youth and groups that serve victims of domestic and sexual violence can collaborate. The toolkit was created by the National Research Center on Domestic Violence.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of these and other publications.)

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