Revista Adolescência e Saúde

Revista Oficial do Núcleo de Estudos da Saúde do Adolescente / UERJ

NESA Publicação oficial
ISSN: 2177-5281 (Online)

Vol. 14 nº 1 - Jan/Mar - 2017

Original Article Imprimir 

Páginas 14 a 21

Sexual violence in different relational spheres in the life of teenagers

Violencia sexual en distintas esferas de relación en la vida de adolescentes

Violência sexual em distintas esferas relacionais na vida de adolescentes

Autores: Lusanir de Sousa Carvalho1; Simone Gonçalves de Assis2; Thiago de Oliveira Pires3

1. PhD in Public Health, National Public Health School (FIOCRUZ) - Assistant Professor in Psychology, Estácio de Sá University (UNESA) and Veiga de Almeida University (UVA). Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil
2. PhD in Public Health, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, FIOCRUZ - Tenured Researcher and Executive Coordinator, Jorge Careli Latin American Violence and Health Studies Centre, National Public Health School Sergio Arouca, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (ENSP/FIOCRUZ). Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil
3. Master`s Degree in Epidemiology in Public Health; PhD student in Biomedical Engineering, Rio de Janeiro Federal University (UFRJ). Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil

Lusanir de Sousa Carvalho
Avenida Ayrton Senna, nº 111, apto. 704. Barra da Tijuca
Rio de Janeiro-RJ. CEP. 22793-000

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Keywords: Sexual violence, adolescent, students, sexuality.
Palabra Clave: Violencia sexual, adolescente, estudiantes, sexualidad.
Descritores: Violência sexual, adolescente, estudantes, sexualidade.

OBJECTIVE: Present the results of an investigation about an overview of sexual violence among teenage boyfriends in schools of ten brazilian cities.
METHODS: The sample consisted of 3696 teenagers of both sexes, students from the 2nd year of high school between 2007-2008. The method used was based on the application of the CADRI questionnaire and statistical analysis.
RESULTS: The results showed that 10% of the interviewed experienced sexual violence in at least one relational sphere where they live: relationship with parents; current or former boyfriend or person who they dated; or people of the school / community. Our results are consistent with the literature that have demonstrated that sexual violence in adolescence can be committed by acquaintances and are often committed by loving partners.
CONCLUSION: The presence of sexual violence in a relationship exposes teenagers to risks including revictimization, a fact that lead us to think about the necessity of actions for promotion of health and prevention of sexual violence for this age group.

OBJETIVO: Presentar los resultados de la pesquisa sobre el panorama de violencia sexual entre enamorados adolescentes y escolares, en diez ciudades brasileñas.
MÉTODOS: La muestra fue compuesta por 3696 adolescentes de ambos sexos, estudiantes del 2º año de la enseñanza media, en 2007-2008. Procedimientos metodológicos fueron subvencionados por la aplicación del cuestionario (CADRI) y analices estadísticos.
RESULTADOS: Los resultados obtenidos apuntaron que 10% de los entrevistados sufrieron violencia sexual en por lo menos una esfera de relacionamiento en el que vive: en la relación con los padres, con el actual o antiguo enamorado o persona con quien "se quedó" o con personas de la escuela/comunidad. Como se encuentra en la literatura, resultados comprobaron que la violencia sexual en la adolescencia puede ser cometida por conocidos y, de forma frecuente, por compañeros amorosos.
CONCLUSIÓN: La violencia sexual, cuando se presenta en un relacionamiento, expone a los adolescentes a riesgos incluso de revictimización, y apunta a la perspectiva de pensar en acciones que tengan por objetivo la promoción de salud y prevención de violencia sexual junto a esta franja etaria

OBJETIVO: Apresentar os resultados da investigação sobre o panorama da violência sexual entre namorados adolescentes e escolares, em dez cidades brasileiras.
MÉTODOS: A amostra foi composta por 3696 adolescentes de ambos os sexos, estudantes do 2º ano do ensino médio, em 2007-2008. Procedimentos metodológicos foram subsidiados pela aplicação do questionário (CADRI) e analises estatísticas.
RESULTADOS: Os resultados obtidos apontaram que 10% dos entrevistados sofreram violência sexual em pelo menos uma esfera relacional em que vive: na relação com os pais, com o atual ou antigo namorado ou pessoa com quem "ficou" ou com pessoas da escola/comunidade. Como encontrado na literatura, resultados comprovaram que a violência sexual na adolescência, pode ser cometida por conhecidos e, de forma frequente por parceiros amorosos.
CONCLUSÃO: A violência sexual quando presente no namoro expõe os adolescentes a riscos inclusive de revitimização, e aponta para a perspectiva de pensar em ações que visem à promoção da saúde e prevenção da violência sexual junto a esta faixa etária.


Sexual violence affects all social classes, with especially high rates among adolescents, particularly girls1-3. It is called a 'hidden epidemic', due to the gap between its frequency and limited disclosure4. As it involves inter-personal violence, we draw attention to the situations in which this type of violence is legitimized and naturalized through gender-based affective and sexual relationships between couples5.

Sexual violence usually occurs with other types of violence6-8. A known factor for increasing vulnerability in adult life is having suffered sexual violence during childhood and adolescence6,8. Consequently, exposure to different types of violence while dating constitutes an important risk factor for further victimization, bearing in mind emotional immaturity, limited experience of relationships and sexual initiation5.

The World Health Organization (WHO) rates violence as a public health problem4. When used in this study, the phrase 'sexual violence' is compliant with WHO guidelines (2002)4. Mentioned in the international literature as 'dating violence' or 'courtship violence', violence among teen couples is one of the risk factors for further victimization of adult women9.

Among sources providing data on sexual violence and the scope of this problem, relationship inequality underscores the invisibility of sexual violence while dating6, 8, 11. These factors encourage undernotification of this phenomenon, which is found worldwide. In view of the relevance of this topic, this paper offers an overview of sexual violence among adolescent schoolchildren in ten Brazilian towns.


The data presented in this study are taken from a multi-center project conducted with 3,696 adolescent boys and girls between 15 and 19 years old, enrolled in the second year of private and state-run secondary schools in the capitals of ten Brazilian States, interviewed between 2007 and 2008. This study was conducted by the Latin-American Center for the Studies of Violence and Health, named in honor of Jorge Careli7.

The quantity of sexual violence shown in the findings of this study is based on the construction of a variable composed of four items that describe situations in which adolescents may have suffered sexual violence, with the presence of at least one of these events used in the calculations:

- Suffering sexual violence from the current affective partner: "Did the person with whom you hook up or are currently dating ever force you to have sex when you didn´t want to, in the course of the past year?"

- Suffering sexual violence from the previous affective partner: "Have you ever suffered sexual aggression from other boy/girlfriend(s) or somebody you hooked up with, in the course of your life?"

- Having sexual experiences with parents/guardian: "Have your relationships with your parents/guardians ever involved any sexual experiences?"

- Suffering sexual experience at school/ in the community: "Have you ever suffered any sexual aggression at school / in the community?"

The sample was sized in order to obtain proportional estimates with an absolute error of 0.10, with a confidence level of 95% for the occurrence of victimization among dating couples at 70%. Multi-stage conglomerate sampling was used, with two-stage selection: (1) selecting the schools with the probability of selection proportional to the number of pupils (systematic PPT) in the second year for each of the strata; (2) random selection of one class from each school, with the questionnaire completed by all the pupils. The sampling plan was drawn up in order to find the smallest sample size with the greatest accuracy and power of inference for the second-year pupil population in ten Brazilian capitals. Due to selection through conglomerates, a design effect of at least two was included, in order to keep the same accuracy level as a simple random sample (AAS). The sample consisted of pupils from Manaus (253), Porto Velho (307), Recife (348), Teresina (493), Brasília (352), Cuiabá (376), Rio de Janeiro (341), Belo Horizonte (361), Florianópolis (351) and Porto Alegre (314).

Completed anonymously in the classroom by these youngsters, the questionnaire consisted of some scales and indicators. The questions included the Conflict in Adolescent Dating Relationships Inventory (CADRI) developed by Wolfe et al. (2001)13 as well as questions on sexual violence and in previous relationships. This scale was transculturally adapted into Brazilian Portuguese7.

When analyzing the CADRI data, each type of violence was calculated by the sum of the scores for the items, categorized as positive in the presence of at least one variable indicating that sexual violence had occurred. When the total score of the items was zero, it was assumed that violence had never occurred.

The data were analyzed through contingency tables using the compound variable reflecting sexual violence and the other variables investigated: gender, age and types of violence addressed by the CADRI (physical and psychological). Continuous variables were presented through means and their association with the dependent variable was examined through the Somers' D correlation. The analysis of the association between the categorical variables and gender was conducted through a variation of the Rao-Scott second order chi-squared test and with a p-value of <0.05 indicating statistically significant associations. The same level of significance was used for all other cross-referencing. The data were analyzed through absolute and relative frequency descriptions by the various strata (town or school network). Furthermore, the confidence intervals (CI 95%) were described for proportions and means.

While writing this paper, the Portuguese word 'namoro' was used generally to mean dating, ranging from fleeting sporadic relationships that might last days, hours or even minutes (hooking up, necking). This research project was submitted to the Research Ethics Committee at the ENSP/Fiocruz and approved under CAAE: 0011.0.031,000-08 Nº 07/08.


Sexual violence in specific relational spheres

Sexual violence while dating is estimated worldwide, with the number of records less than the number of people victimized14. Accusations are rare, due to feelings of fear and shame among victims who must publicly acknowledge their intimate partner as an aggressor.

Among the adolescents analyzed in this study, 10.1% of them had been subject to sexual violence in at least one relational sphere in which they live: relationships with parents, current or former boyfriends or people from school or the community. Among them, 1.5% of the respondents had experienced more than one situation of sexual violence among those explored.

Table 1 presents the four questions that constituted the compound variable used to measure sexual violence.

Figure 1 presents the distribution of the 10.1% of adolescents subject to sexual violence in at least one relational sphere from among those listed in Table 1, by gender. Although mentioning this type of victimization to a lesser extent, girls did so in more spheres: 7.5% in only one situation (family, school, community, with current or previous partner), 0.7% reported two such relational spheres, 0.6% three and 0.2% in all four dimensions explored.

Figure 1. Distribution of adolescents by experience of sexual violence in at least one relational sphere, by gender (N male=1363; N female=1982).

As described in the literature, these findings prove that sexual violence is common among adolescents6,7, and may be perpetrated by people known to them, often their romantic partners8,11,15.

Boys reported being subject to more sexual violence (12.5%) than girls (8.7%). These data indicate a characteristic that differs from what was noted in the literature, which describes adolescent girls as disclosing more sexual violence than their male counterparts4,9,16,17.

With regard to age, sexual violence among youngsters peaked between 17 and 19 years of age (13% - 19%), higher than among younger adolescents (5% - 8%). These figures indicate greater vulnerability to sexual violence in this age bracket, confirming data from other investigations4, 6.

Among the respondents, almost half the girls and 40.3% of the boys mentioned that they had been sexually touched, even when unwilling. However, both girls and boys mentioned that they had touched their partner without consent. It was noted that 27.7% of girls and 15% of boys reported that they had been threatened during attempts to have sex with their partners. The same situation was also noted when asked whether they had ever threatened their partners in an attempt to have sex. The group subject to sexual violence also issued threats intended to force their partners into intercourse. These findings indicate the presence of affective and sexual relationships in which sexual behaviors are invasive and bilateral for both boys and girls17. Boys and girls were both victims and perpetrators of sexual violence, thus leaving them vulnerable to other types of violence.

Sexual violence in relational spheres and physical violence among dating couples

Among boys, physical violence was found in 26.1% of cases, compared to 18.8% among girls who were also victimized sexually. An association was noted between being subject to sexual violence in the family, community/school and while dating /hooking up and being victimized by physical violence in romantic relationships. An association was noted between being subjected to sexual violence and having a partner who threw something at the respondent for both genders, as well as having a partner who hit, kicked or punched the respondent. Respondents who reported that their partners slapped them and pulled their hair are mainly girls. The same occurred for being pushed or shaken by partners, indicating an association with sexual victimization only among girls. Particularly noteworthy is the high frequency of victimization through physical violence in relationships, reported by both genders, at frequencies varying between 12% and 27%, depending on the type of aggression and the gender of the respondent.

There was a significant association between being subject to sexual violence in some relational sphere and perpetrating physical violence on a partner (p= 0.003), with 30.5% of girls subject to sexual violence also perpetrating physical violence, either rarely, occasionally or constantly. With regard to hitting, kicking or punching partners, an association was noted between experiencing sexual violence and perpetrating these acts of physical violence among boys (p = 0.009). Among respondents who slap and shove their partners, more reports of engaging in this type of physical aggression were found for both genders among those who also experienced sexual violence: p= 0.011 (girls) and p= 0.049 (boys). More sexually victimized girls (38.8%) acted through this type of physical violence, compared to boys in the same position (19.2%).

Pushing or shaking a partner showed an association with sexual victimization only among the girls: 24.2% of those subject to sexual violence in a relational sphere had pushed and shaken their partners, while 11.5% of girls not subject to sexual violence engaged in this type of behavior.

Some violent practices used by adolescents tend to be ranked as temporary behaviors that are quite natural, not identified as aggressive conduct8, 10, 11. According to D'Oliveira et al. (2009)18, the prevalence of physical and sexual violence in affective-sexual relationships reaches 28.9% in major urban centers. These data suggest a better understanding of this phenomenon.

Sexual violence in relational spheres and psychological violence among dating couples

Data will also be presented on the links between sexual violence in at least one relational sphere and being subjected to / perpetrating psychological violence on dating partners: threats, relational violence and verbal/emotional violence.

Threats: breaking or threatening to destroy something of value to the partner, deliberately trying to scare a partner, threatening to hit or throwing something at the partner and threatening to hurt the partner.

An association was noted between threats received and issued by adolescents who had experienced sexual violence (p<<0.05). For both genders, it was noted that adolescents are mostly threatened by having something of value to them destroyed. However, among girls, there are more reports of threats (12.3%) and threatening to destroy something of value to the partner (10.7% among those subject to sexual violence and 4.1% in the group not sexually victimized) than among boys (6.7%). Two types of threats are more frequent among boys subject to sexual violence: 'he / she tried to scare me on purpose' (36.6% of sexually victimized boys and 14.3% of those not sexually victimized); and 'he/she threatened to hurt me' (15.1% and 4.3%, respectively). Almost all (45.8%) of the boys subjected to sexual violence in some relational sphere adopted a stance of deliberately trying to scare their partners. This occurred for only 15.9% of boys in the group not sexually victimized. Among the girls, there was no association for this variable (p><0.05).

For the item 'he/she tried to hit me' or 'threw something at the partner', both boys and girls were more victims of these types of threats, with similar percentages (10.3% and 13.4% respectively). Being subject to sexual violence and threatening to hit a partner of throw something at them showed an association among male and female adolescents: among the girls (11.1%) this type of threat was more frequent than among the boys (3.1%).

With regard to their partners, threats experienced while dating may be the precursors of other types of violence. For girls - as either victims or perpetrators - threats are less frequent emotional responses. Consequently, consideration must be given to what these youngsters think about what might or might not be felt to be violent within a dating relationship. In the 'dating handbook'11, the rules guiding partner behavior are not always clear, and when they are broken or not internalized by one of the partners, this may trigger disputes.

This is a significant aspect that requires reflection, as some of these girls will be responsible for the socialization of their offspring, based on these terms.

Relational Violence: spreading rumors about a partner, trying to turn friends against him/her and saying things that spoil a friendship.

An association was noted between sexual violence in some relational sphere and being subject to / perpetrating violence while dating (p= 0,000). The link between being subject to sexual violence and the partner´s attitude of 'trying to turn friends against' the respondent teen was found among girls (24.9%) as well as boys (23.3%). Among the latter, an association was noted between being subject to sexual violence and having a partner who says things to the friends of the respondent teen, trying to turn them against him (14%).

Relational violence is the type of psychological violence that is the least common among teen couples, and is not always viewed as violence in affective relationships8.

Verbal/Emotional Violence: causing jealousy, bringing up bad things from the past, saying things to make the partner angry, using a hostile tone of voice, insulting or ridiculing a partner in front of other people, constantly watching the partner or blaming him/her for problems and accusing him/her of flirting with other people.

There was an association between being subject to sexual violence and having a partner who does something to trigger jealousy, for both genders (p><0.05). Out of the total number of respondents, 80.6% of the boys and 69.4% of the girls reported that they had tried to make their respective partners jealous, with this being the most frequent type of psychological violence identified among the respondents. Furthermore, 66.8% of them mentioned that they said things to their partners just to make them angry. However, most of the questions addressing verbal /emotional violence proved to be associated with victimization by sexual violence among the women.

In the sexually victimized group of girls, there were more reports of partners mentioning bad things from the past (66.8%), saying things just to make them angry (72.7%), speaking in a mean or hostile tone of voice (65.8%), insults and put-downs (17.9%), ridicule or teasing in front of others (13.8%), blaming the girl for a problem (52.4%) and threatening to break off the relationship (47.4%). Girls with a history of sexual violence were particularly noteworthy in terms of suffering verbal violence from their affective partners, suggesting that different standards are in place between boys and girls, where women are more accepting in order to maintain relationships with these characteristics.

The verbal violence suffered by boys was associated with the following items: 'checking where they were, and with whom' (71.1%) and 'accusing them of flirting with another girl' (74.5%). This type of control was imposed by girlfriends. The high frequency of verbal violence showed that this is a very common form of communication among couples with a history of sexual violence, underscoring the belief that jealousy is a sign of affection8, 11, 15. Particularly noteworthy was the extent to which this expression of violence is characterized by the attributes of power, resulting in hierarchical relationships that are culturally demarcated, with affective-sexual couples finding it hard to construct more equal relationships19. It is vital to examine how these violent attitudes are justified by cultural standards that have become naturalized in affective relationships, reflecting practices and languages that are very frequent among young people, regardless of gender or sexual victimization, leaving them more vulnerable to violent behaviors in future relationships.

It is important to stress the association between sexual violence and other types of violence, such as physical and psychological violence, which has also been shown in other studies6, 8, 15. We underscore the fact that these youngsters appear as both victims and perpetrators, while also exposed to other types of violence.

It is necessary to re-think the figures of victim and perpetrator as symbolic constructions assigning an image of violence to males, without the essential characteristic of some gender-related concepts, 19 particularly as boys and girls are both subject to sexual violence.


It is clear that sexual violence is complex and democratic, with everyone vulnerable, regardless of gender, social class or place of residence. The teen years are a time of extreme vulnerability to sexual violence in dating relationships.

This research project found that 10% of adolescents between 15 and 19 years of age had already experienced sexual violence in some relational sphere at some point in their lives. These findings underscore the effects of the experience of violence at this stage in the lifecycle, prompting us to reflect on their vulnerability to other types of violence, as both victims and perpetrators in the context of affective relationships, possibly sounding a warning note for the possibility of domestic violence.

Particularly noteworthy is the feeling of jealousy, common among teen couples. As a type of verbal violence, expressions of jealousy among teen couples probably constitute one aspect of vulnerability to sexual violence in this age bracket. Consequently, experiencing sexual violence at this time turns these youngsters into a more vulnerable segment of the population, as such violence exposes them to these risks in several dimensions. When intercourse occurs within a context of violence, the consequences may occur over the short, medium or long terms.

Investments are required in inter-sector public policies that reach out to adolescent boys and girls subject to sexual violence. Care networks and vocational training programs must also be reviewed constantly.


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