Child Abuse & Neglect, January 2016, vol. 51, pp. 172-180.
There are compelling reasons to believe that orphans – many millions due to the AIDS epidemic – are more likely to be sexually victimized during childhood. Few studies have empirically investigated sexual violence disparities, and those that do suffer from methodological limitations and limited geographic scope. We used nationally representative data on female adolescents (15–17 years) from 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We built multilevel logistic models to test for an association between the dependent variables (orphanhood and parental absence) and sexual violence, both within countries and pooled across all countries. Approximately 10% of adolescent girls reported past experiences of sexual violence; a third of those victimized were 14 years or younger at the time of their first forced encounter. Paternal orphaning (OR 1.36, p ≤ 0.01), double orphaning (OR 1.47, p ≤ 0.05), and paternal absence (OR 1.28; p ≤ 0.05) were significantly associated with experiencing sexual violence in pooled analyses. Fewer findings reached significance within individual countries. Our findings suggest that the lack of a father in the home (due to death or absence) places girls at heightened risk for childhood sexual abuse; further research identifying pathways of vulnerability and resilience specific to this population is needed. Our findings also indicate that abuse often starts at an early age; thus promising programs should be adapted for younger age groups and rigorously tested.