High school students who were victims of violence before the age of 16 are more likely to drop out of high school compared with their peers who have not experienced violence, according to a new study co-authored by a Duke University scholar.
The findings reveal that teen girls and boys who had suffered from childhood violence were 24 and 26 percent, respectively, more likely to drop out of high school before graduation.
Although dropping out of high school is quite common — about one in five people in the United States — there are few studies focusing on the link between childhood violence before the age of 16 and dropping out of school.
The researchers used data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication and the National Survey of American Life to create a sample set of 5,370 females and 3,522 males. Within the sample of more than 8,800 respondents, 34 percent of women and 29 of men reported being the victim of some sort of violence before age 16. Twenty-one percent of women reported sexual assault as opposed to 6 percent of men.
“Actually, we were stunned by the magnitude of the violence directed against young women and young men,” said Dr. William A. Darity, professor at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity and a co-author of the study.
“Moreover, these assaults are not confined to any social class, racial, or ethnic group,” he said. “This is authentically an American problem. One of its manifestations is the negative effect on persistence in school for many of the victims.”
Because most states require compulsory education until age 16, the researchers focused on the association of dropout with violence experienced between the ages of one and 15. Dropout rates for people who experienced any type of violence before age 16 were compared with the rates for people who did not experience violence during the same time frame.
The researchers categorized violent experiences into three groups: child abuse, sexual assault, and community violence. Community violence was defined as violence experienced outside the home, such as being robbed or beaten by anyone other than parents. Sexual assault included violence both within the home and in the community.
The findings show significant differences between men and women for the three types of violence experienced: Men suffered more from community violence, 12 percent versus three percent for women; while more women experienced sexual assault, at 21 percent versus 6 percent for men.
Women who were victims of both sexual assault and child abuse were the most likely to drop out. Among men, the highest dropout rates were found among those who were victims of both child abuse and community violence.
Both male and female victims of home violence were more likely to drop out before graduation than their peers who did not experience violence. Surprisingly, victims of sexual assault who experienced no other violence were no more likely to drop out than their peers who were not victims. This held true among both males and females.
The new findings suggest that policies to reduce violence against children or assist children in coping with violence will have the additional benefit of lowering the national dropout rate.