Sexual Abuse and Early Menarche

Image by Hedvig Ahlberg of A-H

Image by Hedvig Ahlberg of A-H

 

How old you are when you begin to bleed is often a barometer of your past, present and future physical and mental health.

Retrospective surveys indicate that 5% to 25% of North American women have experienced some form of childhood sexual abuse, and the prevalence of childhood physical abuse is estimated to be 13% to 28%. Although the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse is estimated to be greater for Blacks (8%–19%) than for Whites (6%–9%) or Hispanics (5%–8%), these differences attenuate after adjustment for sociodemographic and family background characteristics.
— PubMed Central (PMC) titled Childhood Abuse and Early Menarche: Findings From the Black Women's Health Study

The same study concluded that early periods can be an indication of an unsettled and/or traumatic childhood. From an evolutionary perspective this makes a lot of sense. When your family is unable or unwilling to care for you and protect you from physical and/or sexual abuse your body will respond by enabling you to reach “womanhood” earlier and therefore able to find a mate who will protect you.

Pennsylvania State University conducted a study of 173 girls, 84 of whom had experienced sexual abuse and 89 of whom had not. The abused girls began to grow pubic hair 12 months earlier and breast 8 months earlier than those who weren't abused.

The global prevalence of child sexual abuse has been estimated at 19.7% for females and 7.9% for males. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims; approximately 30% are relatives of the child, most often brothers, fathers, uncles, or cousins; around 60% are other acquaintances, such as “friends” of the family, babysitters, or neighbors; strangers are the offenders in approximately 10% of child sexual abuse cases. Most child sexual abuse is committed by men; studies on female child molesters show that women commit 14% to 40% of offenses reported against boys and 6% of offenses reported against girls.
— Wikipedia, Child Sexual Abuse

Currently in the United States the average age of the onset of regular menstruation (Menarche - pronounced MEN-ar-kee) is 12, but anytime between the ages of 10 and 15 is considered normal.

Usually periods begin about 2 years after the appearance of breast buds and 1 year after  white vaginal discharge first begin to appear.

Multiple studies have determined that girls who experience early menarche reach lower education levels and engage more often in high-risk social behaviors like drinking, using drugs, smoking, and unprotected sex.

 

It is imperative that we understand and treat sexual abuse as a profoundly feminist issue.
Peers, caregivers, teachers and other adults have a tendency to react to children based on their observable – rather than chronological – age. Those reactions can be very powerful for how girls respond and interpret the challenges of growing up.
— Jane Mendle, assistant professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology

The consequences of sexual abuse leading to early menarche has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease.

Adding insult to injury, girls experiencing markedly early puberty also face more peer bullying, social ostracism, and mental illness. This means that if menarche arrives before the age of 12, a woman will need to be tested for breast cancer frequently because they have a 20 percent higher likelihood of a diagnosis of breast cancer in later life. Generally for every extra year of menstruation before the average the likelihood of developing breast cancer increases by 5 percent.

As a woman who experienced repeated childhood sexual abuse, began to bleed at 10, who suffers from chronic severe depression, anxiety and eating disorders who didn’t graduate from university and smokes too much weed I am devastated to learn that not only did my perpetrators all but destroy my mental health, they’ve also statistically determined my cause of death.

 

Article by Anna Quick Palmer