Sat | Oct 20, 2018

Grief for girls! - More than 32% who had sex before 15 years old were forced

Published:Sunday | June 24, 2018 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Campbell
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Almost one-third of Jamaica's girls who had sex before the age of 15 were forced into the act, and in many of the cases family members, friends and acquaintances were the perpetrators.

That is one of the major findings of the Women's Health Survey 2016 which was released last Thursday.

The survey found that while 34 per cent of the women polled had their first sexual experience at 18 years or older, between ages 15 and 17 years seemed to be the preferred time for exploration as 52 per cent had sex for the first time while they were in that age group.

Director of Health Promotion and Prevention at the National Family Planning Board (NFPB), Andrea Campbell, said that the survey findings confirmed what she lives while working with teenagers.

"The average age of sexual initiation for girls is usually around 15 years old and for boys it is 13," said Campbell.

"I am sure that in some communities that you go, if you do it by community, then it is so much lower. So 15 is just an average," Campbell told The Sunday Gleaner.

'Hold on, hold off'

She said that the NFPB has a programme in schools, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, called 'Hold on, Hold off'. Specific schools are targeted, such as those in vulnerable communities with high teenage pregnancies. They do classroom sessions with grade seven to nine girls and lunchtime sessions with the students. They also target the community surrounding the school where they do parenting and on-the-corner sessions.

"For those who haven't started having sex yet, we are pushing that message hold on, and for those who have started, we are saying, you can still hold off," added Campbell.

Although the age of consent is 16 years old, close to 14 per cent of those who participated in the survey had their first sexual experience before the age of 15 years. More than 32 per cent of them said the experience was not by choice.

On the other hand, over 70 per cent of those who had their first sexual experience at ages 18 or 19 reported that the experience was wanted.

Researchers found that one-fifth of Jamaican women reported being sexually abused as children.

"Women were equally victimised regardless of education, age, employment status or union status," the report stated.

The majority (69.6 per cent) of those who experienced childhood sexual abuse had one perpetrator while 12.6 per cent reported having more than one.

"The main perpetrators of violence against girls were friends or acquaintances (22.9 per cent), complete strangers (16.5 per cent) and family members other than parents or siblings (15.9 per cent)."

Sexual harassment affected approximately one of every four women, as 24 per cent were sexually harassed at some point in their life. Approximately one in every 10 respondents had been forced to have sexual intercourse by a non-partner.

"The prevalence of sexual violence was significantly correlated to the age at which women first lived with a man; women who cohabited with a man when they were minors had a higher prevalence (29.4 per cent) than women whose first cohabiting relationship began when they were older (21.9 per cent)."

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com