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4 April 2002
Sexual Contact Before Puberty Leads To Jail
by George Atkinson

People who experienced unsolicited sexual touching before puberty stand a greater chance of ending up serving jail time as teen-agers or adults, according to research conducted at the University of Houston.

Sociology associate professors Russell Curtis and Karl Eschbach and social work associate professor Patrick Leung analyzed data from the 1993 National Health and Social Life Survey that randomly sampled 3,362 people aged 18 to 59 throughout the United States. UH researchers focused on individuals who were sexually touched before puberty and where they ended up in life.

Results showed that individuals who had unsolicited sexual encounters before age 12 were significantly more likely to serve jail time. They were also more likely to exhibit behaviors such as sexual promiscuity and running away from home at an early age, resulting in an increased probability of turning to crime.

The researchers also found that socioeconomic background was a greater influence on these outcomes than race and gender.

"While there were more actual reports from those within upper socioeconomic backgrounds, the overall impact on unsolicited sexual touching is greater on lower income groups," Curtis said. "My contention is that individuals from middle and upper families have easier access to adaptive resources, such as counseling, while lower income groups are less able to adapt."

Other research findings include:

  • Males who were touched before puberty were 2.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than those who were not touched.
  • Females who were touched before puberty were twice as likely to be incarcerated compared to those who were not touched.
  • If males were sexually touched before puberty, they were 2.66 times more likely to use needles to inject illegal drugs.

According to the UH researchers, previous studies of this kind consisted of nonrepresentative clinical samples that often overstated occurrences.

"From our findings, we hope for three future outcomes," Leung said. "First, more preventive education about prepubertal touching - what it is, how it effects individuals and counseling for those who have been touched. Second, there is a need for more services for those children who have been touched, including counselors who are sensitive and culturally savvy. Third, schools need to take a more active role in helping to identify and define sexual touching."

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