EClinicalMedicine, Volume 39, September 2021,
Background: Machine learning techniques can explore low prevalence data to offer insight into identification of factors associated with non-marital sexual violence (NMSV). NMSV in India is a health and human rights concern that disproportionately affects adolescents, is under-reported, and not well understood or addressed in the country. Methods: We applied machine learning methods to retrospective cross-sectional data from India's nationally-representative National Family Health Survey 4, a demographic and health study conducted in 2015–16, which offers 4000+ variables as potential independent variables. We used Least Absolute Shrinkage and Selection Operator (lasso) or L-1 regularized logistic regression models as well as L-2 regularized logistic regression or ridge models; we conducted an iterative thematic analysis (ITA) of variables generated from a series of regularized models. Findings: Thematic analysis of regularized models highlight that past exposure to violence was most predictive of NMSV, followed by geography, sexual behavior, and poor sexual and reproductive health knowledge. After these, indicators largely related to resources and autonomy (e.g., access to health services, and income generating) were associated with NMSV. Exploratory analysis with the subsample of never married adolescents 15–19 years old, a population with higher representation of recent NMSV, further emphasized the role of wealth and mobility as key correlates of NMSV, along with poor HIV knowledge, tobacco use, higher fertility preferences, and attitudes accepting of marital violence. Interpretation: Findings indicate the validity of machine learning with iterative theme analysis (ITA) to identify factors associated with violence. Findings were consistent with prior work demonstrating associations between NMSV and other violence experiences, but also showed novel correlates such as lower SRH knowledge and service utilization and, for girls, norms and preferences suggesting more restrictive gender norms. Sexual and reproductive health, gender equity and safety focused interventions are important for addressing NMSV in India, particularly for adolescents.