Suicidal Behavior and Sexual/Physical Abuse Among Street Youth

This study examined the relationship between home life risk factors and suicide attempts among homeless and runaway street youth recruited from both shelters and street locations in Denver, CO; New York City; and San Francisco, CA. Street youth 12–19 years old (N = 775) were recruited by street outreach staff in Denver, New York City and San Francisco in 1992 and 1993 and interviewed. Cross-sectional, retrospective data were analyzed to examine the relationship between suicide attempts and antecedent home life variables. Logistic regression was used to identify factors predicting suicide attempts.

Forty-eight percent of the females and 27% of the males had attempted suicide. The mean number of suicide attempts was 6.2 (SD = 12.9) for females and 5.1 for males (SD = 7.6). Among females, 70% reported sexual abuse and 35% reported physical abuse. Among males, 24% reported sexual abuse and 35% reported physical abuse. Sexual and physical abuse before leaving home were independent predictors of suicide attempts for females and males. Other home life factors hypothesized to be risk factors for suicide attempts were not significant. Interaction terms were not significant. Among street youth who were sexually or physically abused in this sample, the odds of attempting suicide were 1.9 to 4.3 times the odds of attempting suicide among those not sexually or physically abused.

Interventions attempting to reduce risky behaviors in this population must include assessments of suicidal behaviors as well as components for assisting youth in dealing with the behavioral and emotional sequelae of physical and sexual abuse.

Publication Date: 
Journal Name: 
Child Abuse and Neglect
United States