Sumner SA, Marcelin LH, Cela T, Mercy JA, Lea V, Kress H, Hillis SD. Sentinel events predicting later unwanted sex among girls: A national survey in Haiti, 2012. Child abuse & neglect. 2015 Dec;50(50). 49-55. PMID: 26297488 [PubMed] PMCID: PMC4702506 NIHMSID: NIHMS748553.
Sexual violence against children is a significant global public health problem, yet limited studies exist from low-resource settings. In Haiti we conducted the country's first, nationally representative survey focused on childhood violence to help inform the development of a national action plan for violence against children. The Haiti Violence Against Children Survey was a household-level, multistage, cluster survey among youth age 13-24. In this analysis we sought to determine whether sexual violence sentinel events (unwanted sexual touching or unwanted attempted sex) were predictive of later unwanted, completed, penetrative sex in Haiti. We also sought to explore characteristics of sentinel events and help-seeking behavior among Haitian children. Multivariable logistic regression was used to test associations between sentinel events and later unwanted, completed, penetrative sex. Overall, 1,457 females reported on experiences of sexual violence occurring in childhood (before age 18). A sentinel event occurred in 40.4% of females who experienced subsequent unwanted completed sex. Females experiencing a sentinel event were approximately two and a half times more likely to experience later unwanted completed sex (adjusted odds ratio=2.40, p=.004) compared to individuals who did not experience a sentinel event. The mean lag time from first sentinel event to first unwanted completed sex was 2.3 years. Only half (54.6%) of children experiencing a sentinel event told someone about their experience of sexual violence. Among children, sentinel events occur frequently before later acts of completed unwanted sex and may represent a useful point of intervention. Reporting of sexual violence by children in Haiti is low and can be improved to better act on sentinel events.