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Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

Birth rate among sexually abused, neglected teens is 5 times higher than national average, says study

Pacifiers. A new study has found that teenage girls who are abused or neglected are approximately five times more likely to give birth than teens who haven't experienced abuse.
Pacifiers. A new study has found that teenage girls who are abused or neglected are approximately five times more likely to give birth than teens who haven't experienced abuse. catd_mitchell/Flickr Creative Commons

More than 20 percent of teenage girls who have been neglected or sexually abused gives birth, says a new study, eclipsing the national teen birth rate of about 4 percent.

That's according to new research appearing in the journal Pediatrics, which noted that the girls in the study tended to be from low-income, inner-city neighborhoods.

"Teen victims of sexual abuse may have distinct approaches to sex and sexual activity that can be attributed to traumatic sexualization," said Jennie Noll, the study's lead author, in a statement. "On the other hand, neglect is an act of omission in which parents and caregivers fail to provide the needed care and opportunities for promoting safe and normal development."

Among teen girls in the study who had experienced some form of abuse or neglect, more than 1 in 5 gave birth during the study's timeframe, compared to about 9 percent of their counterparts who hadn't been abused.

While the disparity is startling, Noll said caseworkers have a "golden opportunity": "[Victims]of maltreatment are processed through child protective service agencies," she said, where they can learn about the "risk for, and consequences of, teen childbirth."

The study participants were, on average, about 15 years old and from households where the annual income was between $30,000 and $39,000. Most were from single-parent households.

The latest statistics from the L.A. County Department of Public Health show that South Los Angeles is home to the county's highest teen birth rate: Almost 59 births for every 1,000 teen girls. In 2010, that meant more than 2,700 reported births, the large majority of which were to Latina teenagers.

While the area's high teen birth rate doesn't necessarily mean there's also a high child abuse rate, the county's Department of Children and Family Services confirms that South L.A. is a hotspot for reports of abuse. Officials have estimated that the southside sees an average of about 2,400 new referrals a month, which is high relative to other areas of the county.

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