The prevalence of childhood sexual abuse and adolescent unwanted sexual contact among boys and girls living in Victoria, Australia

Child Abuse Negl. 2010 May;34(5):379-85. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2010.01.004. Epub 2010 Mar 26.


Objectives: Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is associated with both short- and long-term adverse mental and physical health consequences, yet there remains considerable controversy about the prevalence of CSA in the general population. There is also little prospective data on unwanted sexual contact (USC) collected during adolescence.

Methods: Data from a 10-year cohort study of a nationally representative sample of students aged 14-15 years in Victoria, Australia from 1992 to 2003 was used. CSA prior to age 16 was assessed retrospectively at age 24 years using a 6-item validated questionnaire. USC was assessed prospectively via questionnaire at 3 time points during adolescence. Multiple imputation was used to handle missing data.

Results: One thousand nine hundred forty-three of 2032 eligible adolescents participated in at least one wave of the study. One thousand seven hundred forty-five (812 males and 933 females) provided sufficient information to allow for multiple imputation and inclusion in the main analysis. The prevalence of any CSA was substantially higher among girls [17%, 95% confidence interval (CI): 14-20%] than boys (7%, 95% CI: 3-10%), as was the prevalence of USC reported during adolescence (14%, 95% CI 11-16%, versus 6%, 95% CI: 4-8% respectively).

Conclusions: These findings highlight the high prevalence of childhood sexual abuse and unwanted sexual contact among girls as well as boys.

Practice implications: In order to accurately inform early recognition, intervention and education programs for individuals with a history of CSA the frequency of sexual abuse must first be precisely quantified. Developing more standardized approaches will be important in order to improve our understanding of the extent of this problem.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual* / statistics & numerical data
  • Coercion*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Victoria