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Past Abuse Puts Homeless Youth at Risk for Early Sex: Study

FRIDAY, Nov. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Homeless youth who were sexually abused as children may engage in sex at a young age because they believe sex is a way to get people to like them, a new study suggests.

Canadian researchers gathered information from 179 homeless youth, aged 16 to 21, from five homeless shelters in Toronto and the surrounding area. Nearly 42 percent of them reported they were sexually abused as children. Females were much more likely than males to report sexual abuse -- 62 percent versus 26.9 percent.

Those who were sexually abused had their first sexual encounter, on average, at age 14. That is two to three years younger than the general Canadian population, said the Ryerson University researchers.

"For homeless teens, especially young women, being sexually abused as children may make these young people think sex is a way to make someone like them. As a result they are more likely to start having sex at an earlier age," Trevor Hart, an associate professor of psychology and director of Ryerson's HIV Prevention Lab, said in a university news release.

The study also found that two-thirds of the homeless youth had unprotected vaginal sex.

"By engaging in risky sex, these youth are also potentially exposing themselves to HIV/AIDS, along with a host of other sexually transmitted infections," Hart said.

The findings were slated to be presented this week at the Ontario HIV Treatment Network research conference. Because the findings were presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The National Coalition for the Homeless has more about homeless youth.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Ryerson University, news release, Nov. 12, 2010

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