Providence – A new study conducted by Brown University sociologists suggests that teens who witness or experience violence in their home are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. The study, based on a 1995 health survey of 710 teenage girls in two-parent, found that those who come from violent homes were at least three times more likely to have risky sex. Violence between parents has nearly the same effect as if the child were the object of physical abuse.
According to Gregory Elliot, associate professor of sociology at Brown and the study's leader, parents who physically abuse one another are sending a message to children that there are no boundaries to protect oneself from others. Teenagers may even believe the violence is their fault and so feel deficient as human beings. This makes the risks of sexual behavior seem less important.
Risky sexual behavior is defined as either having multiple partners within the last 12 months or having sex with partners who are themselves engaging in risky behavior such as having sex with multiple partners or injecting drugs.
The study also found teenagers who were physically abused themselves were six times more likely to have risky sex than teens who came from homes without violence or abuse. However, Elliot says: Parents who say, We don't hit our kids but we smack each other around' still harm their kids the vicarious experience of violence within the family has nearly as profound an effect on the adolescents as if they were the victims.
Researchers stress that only girls were surveyed and that it is difficult to draw any conclusions from that data about the behavior of teenage boys.
Gregory Elliot spoke with WRNI's Deborah Becker on Morning Edition.