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23 May 2005
Consequences Of Childhood Sexual Abuse Last A Lifetime
by George Atkinson

A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine says that out of 17,000 questionnaire respondents, 25 percent of females and 16 percent of males reported experiencing childhood sexual abuse. Until now, most research on the effects of child sexual abuse has focused on female survivors, and little information was available on male victims. The new study shows that being male offers little protection from the long term effects of abuse. "All children are vulnerable to this form of abuse, and the burden is similar for both men and women later in life," says study author Shanta Dube of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The questionnaire asked participants if the sexual abuse involved intercourse or inappropriate touching only. The findings show that the risk of negative health outcomes was slightly higher for both genders if the abuse included attempted or completed intercourse.

The study also looked at the gender of perpetrators. Women reported that males committed the abuse 94 percent of the time. However, among men, abusers were divided more evenly between both genders with females accounting for up to 40 percent of the abuse. Child sexual abuse had similar effects on males regardless of whether the perpetrator was a man or woman. "Thus, the vulnerability of boys to perpetration of [childhood sexual abuse] by both males and females deserves increased national attention," said Dube.

Dube noted that sexual abuse significantly increases the risk of developing health and social problems - such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and marital strife - in both men and women. A history of suicide attempt was more than twice as likely among male victims and sexually abused adults of both genders faced a 40 percent greater risk of marrying an alcoholic.

The 17,000 respondents - all from California - represent a fairly general population, says Dube, because each visited the clinic for a wellness assessment rather than treatment for a health problem. In addition, statistical methods allowed the authors to isolate the effects of sexual abuse from those of other childhood stressors that may occur simultaneously, such as emotional or physical abuse.

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