Level of abuse higher than national average
One in eight girls at D.C. high schools said she had been raped in the past year, while a large number of Maryland and Virginia students said they had been abused by their significant others, according to a new federal report.
On surveys given in 2011, and just released by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12.7 percent of female high school students in D.C. said they had been forced to have sexual intercourse in the last year. And that percentage is on the rise: In 2007, 10.8 percent of female high school students said they had been forced to have sex, and in 2005, just 5.6 percent said the same.
|Both male and female high school students in the Washington area said they were hit by their romantic partners. In many cases, men said they were hit more -- possibly because surveys included "slapping" and did not specify the level of seriousness of the attack, experts said.|
|Note: Not every jurisdiction asked the same questions every year, making data irregular across Virginia, Maryland and D.C.|
|Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention|
Maryland and Virginia students weren't asked about rape, but 16 percent of Maryland high school students and 12.1 percent of those in Virginia said their boyfriends or girlfriends had been violent toward them in the past year. In Maryland, that figure has remained relatively steady since at least 2005, while this is the first year Virginia has asked its students.
In Maryland, the rate was higher for males, with 17.0 percent of young men in Maryland saying they had been hit, slapped or otherwise intentionally hurt. In Virginia, women were more often victims, with 13.4 percent reporting abuse.
Nationally, 9.4 percent of students reported dating violence. Teen dating violence crosses socioeconomic and racial lines, with some students more able to find help from adults as their first romantic relationships turn dangerous, experts say.
In a recent high-profile case, wealthy University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely V was found guilty of beating to death his on-again, off-again U.Va. girlfriend, Yeardley Love.
"The risk factors for experiencing abuse in a relationship are being in a relationship -- living in a certain place or being at a certain income level or being a certain race or ethnicity does not keep you from experiencing abuse," said Colleen Gallopin, director of Training and Technical Assistance at Break the Cycle, a dating-abuse nonprofit that has worked with D.C. schools. "We know our young people experience it at alarmingly high rates, and we still may not know the full extent of it."
It's not uncommon for rape to occur in a relationship where other abuse is rampant, Gallopin said.
And unless teens have an adult they can trust, they're unlikely to report any violence. That's when even more trouble begins, said Judith Sandalow, executive director of D.C.-based Children's Law Center.
"Teenagers are still growing, and the trauma leads to all kinds of dangerous acting-out behaviors, such as drugs and alcohol, whether it's to numb the trauma, or skipping school if they feel they're being sexually abused at school and school is unsafe," Sandalow said.
While "trauma is trauma," as Sandalow says, she and Gallopin say they believe students in the Washington suburbs are more likely to escape dangerous relationships and receive counseling. For one thing, they're more likely to have the money to pay for mental-health services.
"And if you're already struggling with other types of vulnerabilities, such as violence in the community, it just adds another barrier to inner-city kids getting the help they need," Gallopin said.
Which may be why 13.6 percent of female high school students in the District say they've been hit in a relationship, barely more than the 12.7 percent -- or one in eight -- who said they had been raped.
"One in eight -- good Lord," said Maggie Riden, executive director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. "If one is eight young women are reporting that, it says to me that we need to amp up the number of adults in our young people's lives."