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Many Teen Moms were Abused

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From C-ap@clarinet.com Mon Sep 11 09:59:48 PDT 1995
Subject: Teen Moms-Sex Abuse Links Eyed
CHICAGO (AP) -- Stephanie Whitaker was 6 years old when one of her adolescent brothers began sexually abusing her. She hadn't turned 10 when her mother's uncle began doing the same.

At 14, her grandfather pulled her aside and said he was her boyfriend, and that he planned to consummate the relationship the following weekend when she was supposed to stay overnight in his home.

Miserable and confused, Stephanie left her home, crossed the street and had sexual relations with a 14-year-old friend. She hoped to get pregnant, believing it would keep abusers away. She did and it did -- but only until the birth of her first child, Jeffrey.

``I knew it was going to be a relief period,'' the soft-spoken, 23-year-old woman recalls. ``And that's how Jeffrey came about.''

Experts in sexual abuse and teen pregnancy say Whitaker's experience is all too common, that an alarmingly high number of girls who become pregnant as teens were sexually abused as youngsters.

A University of Washington study of 535 young women who became pregnant as adolescents, for example, found that 66 percent had been sexually abused as children. An Illinois study by Ounce of Prevention, a social service group, found that 61 percent of 445 teen mothers reported sexual abuse.

But the stories of girls like Stephanie have been ignored in the congressional groundswell for punitive measures against adolescent mothers as part of welfare reform.

``It's much more convenient for people to frame it in very simplistic terms than to look at the complexity of the problem,'' said Deborah Boyer, co-author of the Washington study.

``Sexual coercion and rape is a much more difficult problem to deal with and solve than just saying, `We have a lot of sexually irresponsible girls out there. Let's not give them welfare anymore.' ''

Until Stephanie Whitaker was 14, she had no words for sexual abuse. Her father, a minister who also drove a bus, believed that all people are good. Her mother stayed home to raise five boys and three girls.

``They were Christians and I grew up in the church and they trusted everybody,'' Whitaker said. ``I mean, you know, when you have those trust relationships like that it's easy to manipulate.''

For Whitaker, the abuse was not forced, but secret and coercive. It happened behind closed doors, frequently in her own home.

``I had many perpetrators,'' said Whitaker, who meets your eye when she speaks. ``It started with two of my brothers, my mother's uncle, my mom's dad, two friends of my family.''

Whitaker said that she learned too late the difference between appropriate and inappropriate forms of love for a child, a distinction her abusers tried to blur.

``I got real confused at hearing, `I love you,' and, `This is what people do when they love each other,' '' Whitaker recalled.

The day she conceived Jeffrey, Whitaker's grandfather, a 300-pound, 6-foot man who previously had fondled her, told her he ``set the date'' to have sex with her.

``I was scared,'' she said. ``The way he did things wasn't like previous perpetrators -- he was a very rough man. Everything hurt ... So when he told me ... it was just no way.''

``I just felt like, I have a choice. I can have a boyfriend if I want a boyfriend -- and it's not him. I think that's what caused me to go across the street with Ricky that day.''

Boyer, an anthropologist, said that Whitaker fits the profile of teens who were abused prior to pregnancy. For many, the assailant is a family member. Abuse is chronic. Victims often don't realize they can say no.

While pregnant, Whitaker told a counselor that her mother's uncle had abused her. Authorities were notified and, although no charges were filed, he never again molested her.

``I didn't want them to press charges,'' she said. ``As long as it stopped. I just wanted it to stop.''

Whitaker returned to school after Jeffrey was born, rushing home in the afternoon to care for him. She attended a group for early parents, and her own parents were supportive, helping with child care and finances.

During this time Whitaker's mother acknowledged that she, too, had been abused as a child. She confessed how guilty she felt over not having better protected her daughter.

For Whitaker, though, years of abuse already had taken their toll.

``I had really been messed up. For a long time, when I grew up, my goal was to be a prostitute. ... I felt like this was the only thing I had to offer a man.''

Here, too, Boyer said, Whitaker fits the profile.

``You're learning about sexuality way before your ability to cope with it,'' said Boyer. ``But your personality becomes sexualized, you start to believe your only value is in sexuality.''

Having Jeffrey did not end the unwelcome sexual relations for Whitaker.

At the age of 16, with another baby on the way and a boyfriend she wanted to keep, she was assaulted by a cousin while driving him home from work.

It was then that she entered Heart to Heart, a 12-week sexual abuse prevention program, which encourages girls to keep diaries and share their stories with others.

The extent of previous sexual abuse among teen mothers came as a surprise even to some teen counselors.

``When Heart to Heart began, at first I didn't see why we had to deal with sexual abuse. ... this was not part of my daily routine.'' said Venetria Miller, a counselor at Heart to Heart.

But in Miller's first Heart to Heart group, all eight acknowledged they had been sexually abused.

``Everybody disclosed,'' said Miller. ``I expected one or two at each group. A lot of girls were (initially) afraid to talk. They felt it was their fault.''

Today, Stephanie Whitaker is married to the man she fell in love with at 16. They live in a small apartment on Chicago's South Side with Jeffrey, their 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.

Whitaker is teaching her children to avoid the problems she faced.

``I have them practice saying no,'' she said. ``I want them to scream `no,' to kick, fight, bite. ... I have taught my children, `You have the right to say no to an adult.' ''

And although her own abuse has ended, she acknowledges a sad legacy: Whitaker trusts few men other than her husband.

She will not tolerate most hugs, even from friends. She can cuddle with her two boys -- but only with difficulty.

This Web page is referenced from another page containing related information about Abuse Issues in Pregnancy and Labor


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