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“A Spotlight on Teen Victims”

Statement of Susan Herman, Executive Director, National Center for Victims of Crime
Lifetime Television for Women
Congressional Briefing on Violence against Women

March 6, 2003

First, I would like to thank the Women’s Caucus for continuing to bring congressional attention to violence against women, and Lifetime Television, and NCADV for keeping this issue before the American public.

Since 1985, the National Center for Victims of Crime has created resources and advocated on behalf of victims of all kinds of crime. Almost two-thirds of our work centers around violence against women – domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Today I’d like to spotlight an especially vulnerable and largely invisible population: teenagers.

The numbers are staggering. Teens, in general, are twice as likely as any other age group to be victims of crime. And an enormous part of the picture is the sexual victimization of girls.

  • Nearly one-third of all sexual assault victims are raped between the ages of 12 and 17.
  • One in five girls becomes a victim of violence in dating relationships.

Adolescence is a difficult, turbulent time, when teens explore important peer relationships and grapple with who they want to be. Victimization during adolescence often interrupts critical developmental growth and significantly affects physical and mental health.

What happens? Alcohol and drug abuse, pregnancy, STD’s, HIV, depression, suicide, delinquency and revictimization. We also know that teenage victimization, not just sexual assault, but all victimization, is the single greatest factor associated with teenage criminal behavior, more than teenage pregnancy, drug use, or truancy.

Addressing teen victimization presents special challenges.

With adult victims, we’ve managed to break away from many of the old stereotypes. With teens, victim-blaming is still widespread. Why were you dressed that way? Why were you hanging out with those kids? Why were you drinking in the first place? It’s no wonder so many are reluctant to come forward.

Even when teenagers do seek help, their chances of finding appropriate services are slim. Too often, we don’t listen to our teenagers. We don’t believe them, and we don’t help them.

When they do come forward, they also face different challenges than adults, such as mandatory reporting, parental consent laws, and restrictions on who can seek an order of protection.

And, even though local victim service providers do understand how damaging sexual assault during adolescence can be; most aren’t equipped to serve teens.

At the National Center for Victims of Crime, we are working to improve support for teenagers through our Teen Victim Project. We have forged new partnerships between local victim service providers and youth development organizations. We are helping schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, Police Athletic Leagues, and 4-H Clubs recognize dating violence and sexual assault and how important it is to get help for these teen victims.

At the same time, through our Dating Violence Resource Center, we are helping victim service providers understand adolescent development, broaden their outreach efforts, and tailor their services to teens.

But there is so much more to be done.

I close with four recommendations for Congress

  • Raise the cap on the Victims of Crime Act (or VOCA) Fund to increase funding for victims service agencies to reach and serve teenagers
  • Convene hearings that will highlight the nature of teenage victimization and target a range of effective strategies for action
  • Target federal funding for research, training, and education on teenage sexual assault, so that we may prevent the violence, intervene early when it happens, and provide a safety net for our vulnerable teenagers.
  • Fully fund the Rape Prevention and Education grant programs.

Thank you so much for your attention and your hard work on these issues.