Study Identifies Risk Factors for Sexual Abuse of Early Maturing Girls

Earlier research has indicated that girls who go through puberty earlier tend to have more emotional and behavioral problems and are more likely that other girls to be sexually abused. A new study by scholars at the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University find that early maturing girls are more likely to be abused if their friend group contains a large number of boys.

Sara Jaffee, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author of the study, notes that “we knew that these girls are more likely to be victimized generally and became interested in whether there were particular characteristics of girls’ friendship groups that might exacerbate that risk. We didn’t expect the number of boys in a group to have a big impact, but that emerged as a primary modulator of this risk of being abused in a dating relationship.”

Professor Jaffee says that the findings point to a need for parents and pediatricians to have conversations with children about healthy relationships, particularly the girl is maturing more quickly than their peers. “Pediatricians may want to be on the look-out for early development in girls as a marker of risk,” she advises.

Professor Jaffee is a graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study, “Early Puberty, Friendship Group Characteristics, and Dating Abuse in US Girls,” was published in the June edition of the journal Pediatrics. Co-authors are Emily F. Rothman an associate professor of community health sciences at Boston University and Frances R. Chen, a former graduate student at Penn who is now an assistant professor of criminology at Georgia State University. The article may be downloaded here.


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