Child sexual abuse (CSA) is common, and evidence suggests that 5%–10% of boys and girls experience severe abuse involving sexual penetration. CSA is associated with an array of deleterious outcomes, including problems related to mental health, interpersonal functioning and substance use. Studies of community samples have consistently shown a substantial association between reports of CSA and suicide attempts and other self-destructive behaviour in young people. and adults. A major shortcoming of such studies is the reliance on self-report during adulthood of abuse that occurred during childhood, often using samples of individuals who have attempted suicide. To our knowledge, two prospective studies of CSA and self-destructive behaviour have been published to date, but these have yielded inconsistent findings. In one study, the sample size was small (183 CSA cases); in the other, data on CSA victims were combined with those for victims of other forms of child abuse. Neither study controlled for psychopathological conditions or followed patients into the peak ages for suicide.
The aim of our study was to investigate the rate and risk of suicide and accidental fatal drug overdose in more than 2000 individuals — up to 44 years after experiencing CSA — and to examine other characteristics among CSA victims who die from self-harm.
Authors: Margaret C. Cutajar, Paul E Mullen, James R P Ogloff, Stuart D Thomas, David L Wells and Josie Spataro.
Image: RESchroeder / flickr