Until recently the literature on the impact of child sexual abuse has consisted disproportionately of retrospective studies of adults. Research on children allows for a developmental perspective and includes the first efforts at longitudinal studies of sexual abuse victims. This literature also has important relevance to other theory and research concerning how children process trauma, for example, how trauma expresses itself at various developmental stages, its role in the development of later psychopathology, and the mediating effects of important factors such as familial and community support. A review of 46 studies clearly demonstrates that sexually abused children have more symptoms than non-abused children, with abuse accounting for 15 to 45 percent of the variance. Fears, post-traumatic stress disorder, behavior problems, sexualized behaviors and poor self-esteem occur most frequently among a long list of symptoms noted, but no one symptom characterizes a majority of sexually abused children. Some symptoms are specific to certain ages, and approximately one-third of victims have no symptoms. Penetration, duration and frequency of the abuse, force, relationship of the perpetrator to the child, and maternal support affect the degree of symptomatology. About two-thirds of the victimized children show recovery during the first 12 to 18 months. The findings suggest the absence of any specific "sexually-abused-child syndrome" and no single traumatizing process. The need for theory testing and methodological development is emphasized. (Author/LLL)
Paper presented at the Meeting of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (San Diego, CA, January 1991).
Long Term Effects
1 - Available on microfiche
New Hampshire Univ., Durham. Family Research Lab.
National Inst. of Mental Health (DHHS), Bethesda, MD.; National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (DHHS/OHDS), Washington, DC.