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Abused Girls 5 Times More Likely to Become Teen Moms, Study

Update Date: Mar 25, 2013 03:13 PM EDT

Abused or neglected girls are five times more likely to become teen moms, according to a new study.

A new study by the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found that girls who were sexually abused or neglected become teen mothers at nearly five times the national rate of teen motherhood.

The findings published in the journal Pediatrics, shows that teen childbirth rates are more than 20 percent for abused and neglected teens, compared to the national teen childbirth rate of 4 percent.

"Teen victims of sexual abuse may have distinct approaches to sex and sexual activity that can be attributed to traumatic sexualization," the study's lead author Jennie Noll, PhD, director of research in Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, said in a statement.

"On the other hand, neglect is an act of omission in which parents and caregivers fail to provide the needed care and opportunities for promoting safe and normal development. As with the general teen population, primary prevention programs targeting sexual activity will help mitigate the risk of childbirth for maltreated adolescents," Noll said.

Boll and her team followed teen girls aged 14 to 17, assessing them every year through the age of 19 to track their sexual activities, possible pregnancy and motherhood.  Nearly half of the teens in the study were recruited from child protective service agencies for having been abused or neglected within the past 12 months.  The other half of the girls in the study were "comparison" teenage girls who did not have a history of abuse or neglect but were similar in terms of age, income, minority status and family constellation (one-or two-parent households).

Researchers found among girls who had been abused or neglected, 20.3 percent had children, compared to 9.4 percent of those in the comparison group.

Researchers noted that while the comparison group had childbirth rates greater than twice the national rate of 4 percent, the girls in the control group were selected to be demographically similar to the abused sample and were from relatively low income, inner city neighborhoods, where teen childbirth rates are often higher than the national average.

Although teen birth rates in the U.S. have been steadily declining since they peaked in 1991, researchers said the U.S. continues to have one of the highest teen birth rates among industrialized nations.  Researchers said this could be because there are risk factors for teen pregnancy and childbirth that are still not addressed in current prevention efforts, particularly for teen girls who have been victims of abuse or neglect.

"Because victims of maltreatment are processed through child protective service agencies, caseworkers have a golden opportunity to educate these teen girls about the risk for, and consequences of, teen childbirth," Noll concluded.

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