Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

33P R U /18?: Sanctions for Youth Sexual Behavior

Friday, January 13, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Erin Comartin, LMSW, Doctoral Student, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Poco D. Kernsmith, PhD, Associate Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Roger M. Kernsmith, PhD, Associate Professor, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI
Background and Purpose: This paper investigates public attitudes regarding legal and social sanctions for youth sexual behaviors. Consensual sex between adolescents has historically been a contentious topic. Statutory rape laws were designed to protect youth who were deemed to be too young to consent to sexual behavior. Each year an estimated 15,700 statutory rapes are reported to law enforcement. Of these cases, 95% involve a female victim, of which 99% involve a male offender. This research is evaluates support for policies and identifies needs for community education, both in development of appropriate policy and prevention. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to determine if age and gender of the offending youth, and sexual orientation of the relationship, influences the public's level of agreement for sanctioning youth for statutory sexual offenses.

Methods: Computer assisted telephone interviewing was conducted with 770 participants. Respondents were asked about support for sanctioning sexual behavior between a 15 year old youth and another youth of varying ages (15, 18 and 22 years old). Consensual behaviors included touching, oral sex, and intercourse. Respondents were randomly assigned to answer the survey based on the consensual relationship between two young people in one of four groups: a) female victim and female perpetrator, b) female victim and male perpetrator, c) male victim and female perpetrator, and d) male victim and male perpetrator. The majority of the sample were female (66%) and Caucasian (80%). The average age of the sample was 54 years old (SD=16.3). Four out of five respondents were parents (82%).

Results: Hierarchical Linear Modeling was used to analyze the data because there are static and dynamic variables nested within each respondent. Respondents supported sanctions where there were larger differences in age. For same gender youth, greater support for sanctioning was only found for sexual touching. Further research is needed to explore interactions between gender and sexual orientation. For older youth, registration was suggested by 13-17% of respondents, depending on the sexual act. Sex education was suggested most (18%) for a 15 year old offender for sexual touching. Across age groups, counseling was suggested as a sanction by 20-30% of respondents when it involved touching, 13-18% for oral sex or intercourse. Half of the sample agreed that incarceration is an appropriate sanction for a 22 year old offending youth for oral sex or intercourse, and two-fifths for touching. Few respondents believed that prison was appropriate for 15 year old offending youth (3-5%).

Conclusions and Implications: This research indicates that the public generally supports sanctions for underage sexual behavior. Among younger adolescents, the community supports education and counseling to decrease this behavior and prevent harmful or coercive behaviors. More punitive approaches are supported when the age gap is greater. Education is needed among youth, who may not be aware of potential emotional, social and legal consequences of their behavior. This presentation will explore implications for community education of the public and policy makers. Innovative approaches to prevention education for youth will be discussed.