Objective: To determine the incidence of re-abuse in children known to have been sexually abused and to find factors that increase the risk of re-abuse.
Method: The study group consisted of 183 children with substantiated sexual abuse who presented to two children's hospitals' Child Protection Units in Sydney, Australia during 1988 through 1990. At intake, when the children were aged between 5 years and 15 years, data about the child, the family, and the nature of the index sexual abuse were collected. Six years after presentation for the abuse, records of the Department of Community Services were checked to see if any of the young people had been the subject of substantiated notifications for abuse/neglect before and after intake to the study. Predictors of notifications for abuse/neglect after presentation for the index sexual abuse were identified.
Results: Of the sexually abused young people, nearly one in three were the subject of subsequent substantiated notifications to the Department of Community Services for some form of child abuse and neglect or behavior which placed them at risk of harm. Later notifications for abuse/neglect were predicted by notifications for emotional abuse before the index sexual abuse (adjusted RR = 4.88, CI: 1.43 to 16.65), severity of the index sexual abuse (p = .03), and the number of changes in the child's primary caregivers before intake (p = .03). Approximately one in six of the sexually abused young people were notified for sexual abuse after intake to the study. One in 10 also had prior notifications for sexual abuse. Sexual abuse notifications after study intake were predicted by caregiver changes before intake (p = .01) and whether or not there were notifications for emotional abuse before the index sexual abuse (adjusted RR = 3.40, CI: 1.05 to 11.02).
Conclusions: Revictimization of children appears to be a marker of ongoing family dysfunction. Intervention in child sexual abuse needs to consider a range of risk factors associated with re-abuse and, in particular, should focus on family functioning if further abuse is to be prevented.