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Ethnoracial Disparities in Sexual Assault Among Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders

J Clin Psychiatry 2011;72(6):820-826
10.4088/JCP.09m05401blu

Context: Ethnoracial differences may exist in exposure to trauma and posttraumatic outcomes. However, Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians/other Pacific Islanders (NHOPIs) are vastly underrepresented in research pertaining to trauma and health status sequelae.

Objective: To determine whether there are ethnoracial disparities in sexual trauma exposure and its sequelae for health and functioning among Asian Americans and NHOPIs.

Method: We examined data on sexual assault exposure from the 2006–2007 Hawaii Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (H-BRFSS), which yielded a cross-sectional, adult, community-based probability sample (N = 12,573). Data were collected via computer-assisted random-digit landline telephone survey. Survey response rate was found to be about 48% in 2006 and 52% in 2007. The main outcome measures were demographic information, the sexual violence module of the H-BRFSS regarding unwanted sexual experiences, and questions about health lifestyles, chronic diseases and disability, and health status and quality of life.

Results: Participants (N = 12,573) were 44.1% white, 15.0% NHOPI, and 40.9% Asian American. The NHOPIs had a higher 12-month period prevalence (2.24 per 100; 95% CI, 1.32–3.78) for any unwanted sexual experience but had a lower prevalence estimate and odds ratio for any lifetime unwanted sexual experience (prevalence: 9.38 per 100 [95% CI, 7.59–11.55]; odds ratio: 0.61 [95% CI, 0.47–0.81]) relative to whites, after adjusting for age, gender, income, and education level. Asian Americans had lower prevalence estimates for 12-month period prevalence (0.78 per 100; 95% CI, 0.44–1.39) and lower lifetime prevalence estimates and odds ratios (prevalence: 3.91 per 100 [95% CI, 3.23–4.72]; odds ratio: 0.27 [95% CI, 0.21–0.34]). The 12-month and lifetime prevalence estimates for any unwanted sexual experiences for whites were 0.71 per 100 (95% CI, 0.45–1.12) and 12.01 per 100 (95% CI, 10.96–13.14), respectively. Sexual assault experiences were highly associated with adverse health status sequelae (eg, disability, poor general health), but there were no significant ethnoracial disparities on self-reported health outcomes among those with a lifetime history of unwanted sexual experiences.

Conclusions: Data revealed significant ethnoracial differences between whites, Asian Americans, and NHOPIs on unwanted sexual experiences, with relative risk differing by time period. This pattern of disparity could represent early stages of a new trend in local assaultive behaviors toward NHOPIs and merits attention. Across all ethnoracial groups, a lifetime history of any unwanted sexual experience is associated with a wide range of adverse health status sequelae.

J Clin Psychiatry

Submitted: May 29, 2009; accepted November 10, 2009.

Online ahead of print: November 2, 2010 (doi:10.4088/JCP.09m05401blu).

Corresponding author: B. Christopher Frueh, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, 200 W. Kawili St, Hilo, HI 96720 (frueh@hawaii.edu).