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.