By MARTHA RASCHE, Dubois County CARES
More than 3 times the number of girls over boys in Indiana were admitted for inpatient hospital care in 2021.
17.2 percent of Hoosier high school girls said they had experienced sexual dating violence.
More than a third of high school girls reported that someone they were dating intentionally tried to control them physically or emotionally.
These are just a few of the findings published in The 2023 State of the Indiana Girl Report that came out in September. This is the first such data compilation put together by Indiana Youth Institute and the new Girl Coalition of Indiana.
The inpatient hospital data breaks down to 76 percent girls to 24 percent boys, from newborns to age 24. Girls made up 65 percent of emergency room visits, compared to boys’ 35 percent.
The disparity wasn’t explained, but theories relate the higher numbers for girls to giving birth, higher mental health treatment rates for girls, and girls more often than boys being victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Girls reported sexual violence in dating relationships at nearly 7 times the rate of boys, according to the report. Compared to the 17.2 percent of girls who said they had experienced sexual dating violence, 2.5 percent of their male counterparts said the same.
The difference might not be quite that stark, according to Crisis Connection advocate LeAnn Burke. Crisis Connection works in seven counties and is the only domestic violence and sexual assault agency in four of them, including Dubois County.
There is a stigma in reporting sexual violence, Burke said, “and then when the victim is male, that sort of ramps that up.” Whether suffered by males or females, the violence is underreported, she said.
Crisis Connection sees a need to control as “the backbone” of dating violence or domestic violence. The agency does see more female than male victims and typically becomes involved in a case involving adolescents only after a police report has been filed or a forensic interview has been conducted.
“There’s already been a crime reported,” Burke said, and many young people, especially, don’t know that coercion by a partner is a problem until it gets violent.
Peers and pop culture “tend to normalize these controlling behaviors,” she said.
Burke mentioned several red flags that could indicate someone is in a violent relationship. They include feeling you can’t be yourself with your partner or that you are walking on eggshells in fear of what might set off your partner.
“That relationship should build you up. … It shouldn’t take something from you,” she said. “You shouldn’t feel ‘less’ because of your partner.
A decrease in time spent with friends or in extracurricular activities also could indicate a controlling relationship, as could a partner always showing up, especially unexpectedly. A teen’s phone blowing up constantly also could be a red flag, “even more so if your teen looks afraid to answer.”
Survivors of physical and sexual violence often experience long-term consequences, such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, isolation, suicidal ideation and illicit drug use.
Burke said studies also have shown that those who experience violent relationships are at greater risk of having subsequent ones, either with the same partner or in new relationships.
Teens are having their first experiences learning how romantic relationships should be, and “if your first experience with that is abusive, over time that becomes what you think is normal.”
In the short term, according to the state report, sexually abused girls are more likely to turn to substance use, unhealthy weight control behaviors, risky sexual behaviors, pregnancy and suicidality.
Effects of the hospitalization itself include impacts on the young patients’ schooling and ongoing mental and physical health.
Girls reported traditional bullying at twice the rate of boys and cyberbullying at 3 times the rate boys did.
“There are clear indicators that our girls are not okay,” Girl Coalition of Indiana Executive Director Mackenzie Pickerell said in introducing the report.
Both boys and girls reported similar rates of Adverse Childhood Experiences, also known as ACEs, and similarly low rates of encouragement from neighbors to do a good job and acknowledgement from neighbors when they do so.
ACEs occur before the child is 18 and include physical, sexual and emotional abuse. They also include things like living with someone who abuses drugs or alcohol or who has serious mental illness or has been incarcerated. Living in poverty, exposure to domestic violence, and being part of a family going through a divorce are other ACEs.
Statewide, more than 20 percent of girls and a similar number of boys report having at least two ACEs.
While many ACEs are avoidable, not all of them are. Positive factors in a child’s life can help make up for the negative.
“Just as adverse experiences have influence on our functioning, positive experiences do as well,” said Kelsey Carr, director of prevention and community-based projects for Children & Family Services Corp. in Vincennes. Since February of last year, Carr has trained more than 800 individuals in ACEs. Earlier this year she was at Memorial Hospital in Jasper training hospital and school social workers as part of their continuing education.
“Parents, caregivers, teachers and other adults can diligently try to provide positive interactions with youth to mitigate and prevent some of the effects of ACEs,” Carr said. “Recognizing the effects of abuse or neglect, or just simply recognizing that a youth may be struggling, and then connecting them with resources can make a huge difference.”
Based on the Indiana Youth Survey and her training work, Carr believes the most common ACEs in our area include parental substance use and incarceration, parental mental illness and neglect.
These adverse experiences have a neurological effect on the brain, which can cause behavioral, mental and physical difficulties. “ACEs can lead to chronic illnesses, increased risk of smoking and substance use (and) risky behaviors,” Carr said, noting that any of those could lead to early death.
A further finding in the Indiana Girl Report is that students said neighbors do not notice when they do a good job and do not let them know it. That was the response of 80.6 percent of girls and 75.3 percent of boys who answered the Indiana Youth Survey.
That survey is administered to students in grades six through 12, including in Dubois County. Here, 72.4 percent of girls across the grades answered no to the neighbors-notice-when-I-do-a-good-job question on the 2023 survey, and 63.4 percent of boys said no.
Looking more closely at the local numbers, the no’s from boys were highest at the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade levels. The rates for girls were high across all seven grades.
These numbers are indicative of what other studies have shown: Adolescents are having a hard time finding where they “belong” and often don’t feel that they matter. They definitely don’t feel seen and appreciated by their neighborhoods and the larger community.
“While these perceptions may not always be representative of the facts,” the report notes, “they do provide insight into the lens of how children, especially girls, are experiencing their neighborhoods and communities.”
Emotional wellness and resiliency is another aspect included in the report.
“When girls develop the ability to identify, express and manage their feelings, they build a foundation for emotional resiliency,” it notes.
Parents and extended family often are the first people to help a child build that resiliency. 9 of every 10 Hoosier girls ages 6 to 17 have a caring adult or mentor outside of their parents, according to the report.
It is a mistaken notion that when children start going to school the job of helping them develop resilience gets passed on to others. There simply aren’t enough in-school support professionals to do the job: There are 4.5 times more students per school psychologist and 11 times more students per school social worker than recommended, according to the report.
Martha Rasche is the assistant CARE-ordinator of the Dubois County Coalition for Adolescent Resilience and Empowerment Strategies. For more information about the coalition or to join its efforts, call 812-827-8464.