KU News Service

Study shows coercion more common in sexual minority women, largely ignored in education, prevention

Wed, 01/22/2014

LAWRENCE — Sexual coercion and sexual abuse are prevalent in many facets of society. A University of Kansas researcher has published a study showing that not only is sexual coercion more prevalent among sexual minority women, it is largely ignored in education and prevention efforts.

Sonya Satinsky, assistant professor of health, sport and exercise science, conducted a survey of nearly 500 women asking about their sexual orientation, sexual history, health, happiness and a number of other factors. She found that sexual minority women — those who do not identify as heterosexual — reported they had been coerced into unwanted sexual behavior at a higher rate than heterosexual women at 56.5 and 44.8 percent, respectively.

The study, co-authored by Kristen Jozkowski of the University of Arkansas Fayetteville, has been published in the journal Women & Health. The numbers were unexpected and point to another troubling trend.

“The way we often try to reduce sexual coercion and sexual abuse is through education,” Satinsky said. “But, our sex education often only focuses on heterosexual relationships, which leaves out a lot of women.”

Previous research has shown that sexual minorities are often victimized because they may seem vulnerable or be perceived as less likely to report it to authorities.

The survey also showed that those who had experienced coercion tended to report younger ages of initial sexual contact. A number of factors could lead to that outcome. The younger age of sexual initiation could in some cases be a case of sexual coercion, but is not the case for all respondents, Satinsky said. There is also the possibility of young sexual minority individuals experimenting, in an attempt to understand who they are.

“When we found that victims of sexual coercion tended to have younger ages of sexual initiation we thought ‘there’s a lot more we need to know,’” Satinsky said.

One positive finding was that sexual minorities who reported experiencing coercion said they are healthy and happy at the same rate as their heterosexual counterparts. The researchers also hypothesized that sexual minority women who had been coerced would report higher frequency and lifetime prevalence in a wide range of sexual behaviors than those who hadn’t. Coercion was not, in fact, related to any lifetime sexual behavior outcomes.

Previous studies have reflected Satinsky and Jozkowski’s findings that sexual coercion and abuse is troublingly high. Forty-nine percent of respondents in Satinsky’s study, both heterosexual and sexual minority, reported being coerced at some point in their lives. However, the higher prevalence among sexual minorities shows that education and prevention efforts focusing solely on heterosexual relationships fall far short of serving the entire population.

“There is a need for acknowledgement that coercion can happen outside of traditional heterosexual dynamics,” Satinsky said. “We’re not always addressing the concerns of sexual minority women with the current model of education.”

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