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Coping with sexual assault as a teenager is bad enough—but to add insult to injury, a new study published Monday in Pediatrics says teens are being neglected at the hospitals where they seek treatment, not being administered recommended tests and prevention methods for pregnancy and STDs.
Researchers studied nearly 13,000 teens at 38 children's hospitals from 2004 to 2013, and found a wide range of care. The subpar treatment they discovered in some instances puts teens at serious risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Teen sexual assault is terrifyingly common—up to 25 percent of U.S. girls and 10 percent of boys are sexually abused or assaulted by the age of 18, the researchers said. And almost 11 percent of high school girls and 4 percent of boys reported having been raped in a 2013 government survey.
When a teenager is assaulted, officials and doctors recommend testing them for STDs, giving them preventive antibiotics for chlamydia and gonorrhea, and testing for HIV, hepatitis B, and syphilis. And of course, they recommend giving pregnancy tests.
But this isn't always what happens. On average, 44 percent of assaulted teens got recommended tests and about one third got preventive treatment, according to the study, led by researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Rates for both varied by hospital and were lowest for younger patients. Other studies have found low emergency-room testing and treatment rates for sexually assaulted adults.
Why is the treatment so uneven? Some teens may not have been tested or treated because the assault didn't involve intercourse. Also, some hospitals might not test teens who delay seeking care, but that goes against doctor recommendations. Plus, some teens may decline testing and treatment, or may seek care in outpatient clinics, so the true rates of under-treatment are unknown.
The researchers say that their results show a major need for doctors to standardize how teens are treated after sexual assault—and also help victims get the care they need, so they don't end up with dire consequences.
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