Background: Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a worldwide problem. Although most studies on the long-term consequences of CSA have focused on women, sexual abuse of both boys and girls is common. Thus, a comparison of the long-term effects of CSA by gender of the victim will provide perspective on the need for future research, prevention activities, and treatment of survivors.
Methods: A retrospective cohort study was conducted from 1995 to 1997 among 17,337 adult HMO members in San Diego, California. Participants completed a survey about abuse or household dysfunction during childhood, and multiple other health-related issues. Multivariate logistic regression was used to examine the relationships between severity of CSA (intercourse vs no intercourse) and long-term health and social problems (substance use and abuse, mental illness, and current problems with marriage and family) by gender of victim. Models controlled for exposure to other forms of adverse childhood experiences that co-occur with CSA. Among men, the relationship between the gender of the CSA perpetrator to the outcomes was also examined.
Results: Contact CSA was reported by 16% of males and 25% of females. Men reported female perpetration of CSA nearly 40% of the time, and women reported female perpetration of CSA 6% of the time. CSA significantly increased the risk of the outcomes. The magnitude of the increase was similar for men and women. For example, compared to reporting no sexual abuse, a history of suicide attempt was more than twice as likely among both men and women who experienced CSA (p<0.05). Compared with those who did not report CSA, men and women exposed to CSA were at a 40% increased risk of marrying an alcoholic, and a 40% to 50% increased risk of reporting current problems with their marriage (p<0.05).
Conclusions: In this cohort of adult HMO members, experiencing CSA was common among both men and women. The long-term impact of CSA on multiple health and social problems was similar for both men and women. These findings strongly indicate that boys and girls are vulnerable to this form of childhood maltreatment; the similarity in the likelihood for multiple behavioral, mental, and social outcomes among men and women suggests the need to identify and treat all adults affected by CSA.