Background: Epidemiologic description of long-term adverse health effects of childhood sexual abuse is lacking, despite estimates that perhaps 30 percent of adults have experienced sexual assault in childhood.
Methods: In an adult cohort enrolled to investigate causes of transmission of human immunodeficiency virus, we identified current behaviors affecting risk of infection that were associated with a history of early sexual abuse. One hundred and eighty-six individuals provided information on the occurrence of abuse and subsequent sexual and drug using activities.
Results: Approximately half of the women and one-fifth of the men reported a history of rape during childhood or adulthood. Twenty-eight percent of the women and 15 percent of the men recalled that they had been sexually assaulted during childhood. People who reported childhood rape compared with people who did not were four times more likely to be working as prostitutes (90 percent confidence interval = 2.0, 8.0). Women were nearly three times more likely to become pregnant before the age of 18 (90% CI = 1.6, 4.1). Men who reported a history of sexual abuse had a twofold increase in prevalence of HIV infection relative to unabused men (90% CI = 1.0, 3.9).
Conclusions: The disturbing prevalence of early sexual abuse and its possible health-related consequences call for prompt and routine investigation of sexual abuse histories. Identification of sexual victimization may be an important component for management of risk factors for human immunodeficiency virus.