AG blog header - Ending sexual violence against adolescent girls

Ending sexual violence against adolescent girls

Creating a world free from violence for all children, adolescents and youth

By Chrissy Hart, Director of Advocacy and Policy

While we know that children of all ages and genders are subjected to violence, data from the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) and other sources show that adolescent girls face a unique vulnerability to sexual violence which can have serious and lifelong consequences.

Adolescent girls face specific forms of sexual violence that are related to gender inequality such as female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, and intimate partner violence. They may also be more at risk for certain types of sexual violence online.

 

We also know that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a “shadow pandemic” of already high levels of violence against women and children, given limited but compelling available evidence—ranging from data on emergency room visits to calls to child and domestic violence helplines. Restrictions on movement, cramped living conditions, isolation with abusers, heightened economic stress and deserted public spaces have all contributed to increased vulnerabilities, with particular consequences for adolescent girls. New estimates suggest that between 11 and 20 million girls may never return to school as a result of the pandemic, with implications for their risk of experiencing violence and ability to seek help and services.

Together for Girls focuses on three key areas to both mitigate the risk of and respond to violence: prevention, healing, and justice. We focus on comprehensive data collection to provide a nuanced understanding of the nature and prevalence of violence at the country level, in order to inform policy development and programmatic design. Policies and programs that ensure adolescent girls who experience violence can access timely support and critical services can have a powerful impact, helping survivors go on to thrive and interrupting cycles of violence. We also know that there are evidence-based, proven solutions to prevent sexual violence, and we work to collect and disseminate this evidence to support the policy-makers and practitioners who are positioned to drive change to create a world where every girl grows up safe, protected and empowered.

What the VACS tell us about sexual violence against adolescent girls

While we seek to both prevent and ultimately end sexual violence against all children, adolescents and youth, VACS data highlights the need to focus policies and interventions on combatting the high risks facing adolescent girls.

The critical interplay of age and gender

 

gender age graphic - Ending sexual violence against adolescent girls

 

Together for Girls collaborates with a wide range of partners and stakeholders to understand, prevent, address and ultimately end all forms of violence against children, adolescents and youth. We pay particular attention to how gender, age and other identity and demographic factors intersect to create specific risk factors and vulnerabilities for individuals and groups. VACS data is collected and analyzed separately by sex, recognizing that the assigned sex of a child (female or male) can have vast implications on the child’s experience of sexual violence. However, there are limits to the data, as current VACS do not measure the experiences of nonbinary and transgender children, adolescents and young people. The VACS will continue to evolve to address the intersections of children’s experiences that may increase the risk of violence.

The consequences of sexual violence against adolescent girls

In sub-Saharan African countries that conducted a VACS, 1 in 3 young women who experienced forced or coerced sex became pregnant before age 18. Girls who experience sexual violence are also likely to report missing school as a result.

 

However, experiencing sexual violence doesn’t have to lead to long-lasting negative health and life outcomes. Survivors of sexual violence who access services, including mental health support and medical care at the right time, can go on to thrive.

A safer, better future for adolescent girls is possible

While the magnitude of sexual violence against girls is overwhelming, we know that together, we can and must create a world where all girls are cared for, safe and able to thrive. Solutions exist, and we are constantly looking for and highlighting new innovations and proven approaches to protecting and empowering girls—and all children, adolescents and youth. 

 

In the “What Works to Prevent Sexual Violence Against Children” evidence review, we profile interventions that target adolescent girls, such as the Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents program by BRAC in Bangladesh and Uganda, which offers adolescent girls access to mentorship and microfinance training that has contributed to lower rates of teen pregnancy and less girls reporting sex against their will. In Bolivia, A Breeze of Hope Foundation supports children and adolescents who have experienced sexual violence, many of whom are adolescent girls, by providing them with physical and psychological support services as well as optional legal assistance. The Families for Safe Dates program in the United States helps adolescents establish healthy relationship behaviors, leading the way to a lifetime of healthier communication about consent and bodily autonomy.

 

The case for investing in girls is a strong one, with ample evidence demonstrating that investments in girls’ health, education, economic opportunity and protection from violence reaps dividends for not only girls themselves, but for their families, communities and nations. By ensuring that all adolescent girls are safe, protected and empowered, we can create a world free from violence for all children, adolescents and youth.

What Works cover - Ending sexual violence against adolescent girls

 

The “What Works to Prevent Sexual Violence Against Children” evidence review showcases practical, cost-effective programs that can help break the cycle of violence.

  1. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/in-focus-gender-equality-in-covid-19-response/violence-against-women-during-covid-19
  2. https://covid.malala.org/
  3. https://www.plan.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/half-a-billion-reasons-how-investing-in-adolescent-girls-can-change-the-world-full-report-2018.pdf

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