Teens are at greater risk of violence and injury during sexual assaults than previously thought, according to a study posted on the website of the University of Illinois (UI) on Thursday.
The researchers studied 563 sexual assault cases randomly selected from a statewide database of medical reports on sexual assault examinations conducted in hospital emergency departments, looking at data from crime laboratory reports, police records and sexual assault evidence collection kit forms.
The final sample in the study included 33 cases in which the victims were under age 12. There were 66 cases with victims in the 12-15 age group, 48 cases involving 16 to 17-year-old victims, and 416 cases with adult victims.
Biological evidence such as sperm, blood and saliva, and DNA was found at similar rates among adults and adolescents but was significantly less likely to be found on children under age 12. Across all age groups, obtaining a DNA match to the alleged suspect, to a suspect in another case or to a convicted offender was uncommon, the researchers found.
The researchers also found that use of force and choking the victim significantly increased with the age of the victim.
About half of the adults received non-genital injuries, compared with 27 percent of children under age 12. Likewise, adolescents received non-genital and anogenital injuries at similar rates to adults, a finding that conflicted with most prior studies.
The majority of the victims were assaulted by a person they knew, such as a friend or acquaintance. Sexual assaults by strangers were less common, occurring in 18 percent of cases involving 12 to 15-year-old victims and nearly 31 percent of cases with adult victims aged 18 and older.
In examining police records, the researchers found that arrests were about twice as likely when victims were under the age of consent, occurring in 52 percent of all cases involving victims under age 12.
However, arrests were made in just 25 percent of the cases involving 16 to 17-year-old victims and in 24 percent of the cases involving adult victims, the researchers found.
"Our study may be more generalizable to cases as a whole because the sample was derived from a statewide array of hospitals rather than from a single hospital or specialized center," said UI senior research specialist in social work Theodore P. Cross.
More research is needed on the best methods of responding to adolescents who are sexually assaulted and on coordinating needed services across adult and child agencies, Cross said.
The study has been published in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect.