The impact of child sexual abuse on health: a systematic review of reviews

Clin Psychol Rev. 2009 Nov;29(7):647-57. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2009.08.003. Epub 2009 Aug 19.


A large amount of studies and literature reviews on the consequences of child sexual abuse has appeared over the past twenty years. To prevent that the inconsistency in their conclusions along with their methodological differences and limitations may create interpretative difficulties, mistaken beliefs, or confusion among all professionals who turn to this literature for guidance, this paper addresses the best available scientific evidence on the topic, by providing a systematic review of the several reviews that have investigated the literature on the effects of child sexual abuse. Seven databases were searched, supplemented with hand-search of reference lists from retrieved papers. The author and a psychiatrist independently evaluated the eligibility of all studies identified, abstracted data, and assessed study quality. Disagreements were resolved by consensus. Fourteen reviews, including more than 270,000 subjects from 587 studies, were analyzed. There is evidence that survivors of childhood sexual abuse are significantly at risk of a wide range of medical, psychological, behavioral, and sexual disorders. Relationships are small to medium in magnitudes and moderated by sample source and size. Child sexual abuse should be considered as a general, nonspecific risk factor for psychopathology. The implications for research, treatment, and health policy are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / diagnosis
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Comorbidity
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Crime Victims / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / epidemiology
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Offenses / psychology
  • Sex Offenses / statistics & numerical data
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Unsafe Sex
  • Young Adult