Nearly one in five adolescent girls in the Cayman Islands reported that they had been sexually abused, in a comprehensive survey of young people in the territory.
The Adolescent Health and Sexuality Survey, which will be officially released Wednesday, May 13, raises concerns about high levels of physical and sexual abuse as well as mental ill-health among teenagers.
“The picture that emerges from these results is of adolescents vulnerable to ill-health and even suicide attempts as a result of a combination of factors including violence and lack of emotional support from key institutions, namely the family, school and health care services,” according to an advance copy of the report, seen by the Cayman Compass.
A series of surveys with 955 young people, aged 15 to 19, were conducted in 2012 by health officials in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization as part of its regional work on risk factors and social issues affecting young people in relation to HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
“A cluster of risk factors is of great concern, namely violence, mental ill-health and drug use,” according to the report, which officials say was not finalized until January of this year.
Key findings include:
- Nearly one in five girls (18.6 percent) said they had been sexually abused in childhood
- One in 20 respondents said they had been raped the first time they had sex
- Of those who were sexually active, one in eight had gotten pregnant or caused a pregnancy, and one in 12 girls had an abortion
- Nearly a quarter of respondents, male and female, had suicidal thoughts in the past year. One in six of those had tried to kill themselves
- One in six had suffered physical injuries from being assaulted by an adult
- Around a third of girls and a quarter of boys reported drinking, mental health problems, drug use or violence among their parents or other adults at home.
The report warns of substantial levels of mental ill-health, including loneliness, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, particularly among teenage girls. Those who had been sexually abused were 7.5 times more likely to attempt suicide, according to the survey.
“Results on suicide confirm the critical importance of abuse and violence in affecting the wellbeing of adolescents,” the report notes.
Health officials suggest the findings show that the prevalence of physical and sexual abuse, while alarming, are similar to and in some cases lower than global statistics.
“This indicates that the Cayman Islands, like the rest of the world, needs to continue to take the issue of child abuse very seriously,” said Nancy Barnard, deputy chief officer in the Ministry of Health.
The report is dated 2013, but health officials say they did not receive the final draft until January this year.
Premier and Health Minister Alden McLaughlin said enacting recommendations based on the report is a key priority for the ministry.
The report recommends a targeted approach to dealing with young people identified as being at risk.
“These vulnerabilities do not affect all young people equally, and it is important to focus attention on those who are more exposed to violence and have less support. The study also showed the highly gendered nature of violence and mental health.
“Young women and girls generally had poorer mental health and this is at least partially associated with sexual abuse and violence against them, especially in the domestic space.”
Dr. Marc Lockhart, chair of the Cayman Islands Mental Health Commission, said the results were alarming, but not surprising. He said more needs to be done to identify and support victims of physical and sexual abuse.