To examine the relationship between exposure to violence and health-risk behaviors.
University-based outpatient family planning clinic.
Sexually active adolescent girls younger than 18 years (N = 517) who presented for contraceptive care.
Main Outcome Measures
Prevalence of witnessing or experiencing violence and the associations with health-risk behaviors, including high-risk sexual behaviors, substance use, and self-injury.
Compared with adolescents who had not been exposed to violence, those who had only witnessed violence were 2 to 3 times more likely to report using tobacco and marijuana, drinking alcohol or using drugs before sex, and having intercourse with a partner who had multiple partners. Those who had experienced, but not witnessed violence were at increased risk of these same behaviors and were 2 to 4 times more likely than those who had neither witnessed nor experienced violence to report early initiation of intercourse, intercourse with strangers, multiple partners, or partners with multiple partners, tobacco, alcohol and drug use, or to have positive test results for a sexually transmitted disease. Individuals who had both witnessed and experienced violence demonstrated the greatest risk of adverse health behaviors. These adolescents demonstrated 3 to 6 times greater risk of suicidal ideation (odds ratio [OR], 3.1; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.2-4.0) or suicide attempts (OR, 4.5; 95% CI, 2.2-9.4), self-injury (OR, 5.8; 95% CI, 2.6-12.9), and use of drugs before intercourse (OR, 6.2; 95% CI, 3.0-12.9) than those who had neither witnessed nor experienced violence.
Adolescents exposed to violence are at increased risk of multiple adverse health behaviors. Programs designed to improve health outcomes should target this high-risk group.