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Early Puberty in Girls Can Be a Risk Factor For Sexual Abuse

According to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 20 percent high school girls in the U.S. report experiencing sexual or physical abuse by a dating partner every year. A new study “Early Puberty, Friendship Group Characteristics, and Dating Abuse in US Girls,” in the June 2017 Pediatrics (published online on May 8), found that when girls make an early transition to puberty they are at heightened risk for dating abuse victimization if their friendship group includes a greater percentage of boys. Researchers examined 3,870 girls aged 13 to 17 years old, all of whom were in romantic and/or non-romantic sexual relationships, from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and found that early pubertal development is a risk marker for sexual and physical abuse, particularly when a higher percentage of girls’ friends are boys. Researchers concluded that pediatricians and adolescent health specialists should be sensitive to the elevated risk for victimization in early-maturing girls, but that continued study of the mechanisms underlying the linkage of early puberty, male friends and adolescent dating abuse may further enhance prevention efforts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds.

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