Cyber Sexual Harassment: Prevalence and association with substance use, poor mental health, and STI history among sexually active adolescent girls.

Focus Areas: Ending Gender Violence Health & Wellness

The current study aims to assess the prevalence, perpetrators, and consequences of cyber sexual harassment (CSH) among adolescent females.

Sexually active adolescent females (N = 159) ages 15-19 were recruited from a health clinic in a low-income, urban area of southeast San Diego County, California to complete a tablet-administered survey that included items on sexual violence and harassment, including CSH. Using logistic regression models, we assessed CSH in relation to substance use, poor mental health outcomes and STI history.

Participants were, on average, 17 years of age and half were currently in a relationship. The majority of girls (68%) reported at least one form of CSH, which included receiving unwanted sexual messages/photos (53%), receiving unwanted messages asking them to do something sexual (49%), being pressured to send sexual photos (36%), and having sexual photos shared without permission (6%). Perpetrators included known and unknown males; almost a third (27%) reported perpetration by a relationship partner. In logistic regression models adjusting for race, CSH was associated with: past 30-day alcohol use, drug use (ever), feeling depressed (past 30 days), and feeling anxious (past 30 days) (Odds Ratios ranged: 2.9-7.5). CSH was also associated with past-year suicidal thoughts and STI diagnosis (ever) (p < 0.05, ORs not presented due to small numbers).

Our findings suggest that in some subgroups, CSH appears to be affecting the majority of girls, which is especially concerning given its association with multiple poor health outcomes.

Reed, E., Salazar, M., Behar, A. I., Agah, N., Silverman, J. G., Minnis, A. M., ... Raj, A. (2019). Cyber sexual harassment: Prevalence and association with substance use, poor mental health, and STI history among sexually active adolescent girls. Journal of Adolescence, 75, 53-62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.07.005