Effects of adolescent trauma exposure on risky behavior in college women

Psychiatry. Winter 2005;68(4):363-78. doi: 10.1521/psyc.2005.68.4.363.


Individuals with sexual assault or abuse histories are likely to engage in risky sexual and other self-destructive behaviors. Studies of these behaviors, however, have focused on target traumatic events without accounting for other events in the participant's history, recency of the events, and/or developmental level at time of occurrence. The present study addressed some of these confounds by creating groups with unique and non-overlapping trauma histories among adolescent participants whose first trauma occurred at age 12 or older. Sophomore women from six regional campuses were screened in a two-stage procedure, and 209 of 363 final interviewees were included in the present report. These were assigned to a no trauma group, or to one of five groups with a unique trauma history: a single traumatic loss, a single physical assault, a single sexual assault, ongoing sexual or physical abuse, or multiple single traumas. Risky sexual behavior, suicidal ideation, and elevated perpetration of violence were most prominent among those with ongoing abuse exposure, although a single exposure to interpersonal violence during adolescence was sufficient for some risky behaviors. Major depression (MDD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were associated with many of the behaviors, and may serve to heighten risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universities*