Teens are a particularly vulnerable population for sexual assault and dating violence. Large scale national studies have found that approximately 8.1%, or 1.8 million, U.S. adolescents (age 12 – 17) have been the victim of at least one sexual assault.1 Among teens in relationships, approximately 1 in 5 teenage girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.2
One factor that makes teens particularly vulnerable is biology. Extensive research by scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health revealed that the teenage brain does not look like an adult brain until we are in our twenties, with males being two to three years behind females. Dr. Frances Jensen, in her book The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults (2015), observed:
“[T]he teen brain is only about 80 percent of the way to maturity. That 20 percent gap, where the wiring is thinnest, is crucial and goes a long way toward explaining why teenagers’ behave in such puzzling ways — their mood swings, irritability, impulsiveness and explosiveness; their inability to focus, to follow through, and to connect with adults; their temptations to use drugs and alcohol and to engage in other risky behavior.” (Page 37).
Simply put, the area of the brain responsible for giving us the ability to assess a situation and make good judgment—the prefrontal cortex—is still “under construction” during adolescence.
1. Kilpatrick, D. and Saunders, B., “Prevalence and Consequences of Child Victimization: Results from the National Survey of Adolescents,” 2000. Kilpatrick, D., R. Acheron, B. Saunders, H. Resnick, C. Best, and P. Schnurr, “Risk Factors For Adolescent Substance Abuse and Dependence: Data From a National Sample,” Journal of Counseling Psychology 68, 2000.
2. Silverman, J.G., Raj, A., Mucci, L.A., Hathaway, J.E., “Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Abuse, Unhealthy Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality,” 286 Journal of the American Medical Association 572, 2001.