Background: Adverse childhood experiences (e.g., physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic violence, parental discord, familial mental illness, incarceration and substance abuse) constitute a major public health problem in the United States. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) scale is a standardized measure that captures multiple developmental risk factors beyond sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (i.e., sexual minority) individuals may experience disproportionately higher prevalence of adverse childhood experiences.
Purpose: To examine, using the ACE scale, prevalence of childhood physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and childhood household dysfunction among sexual minority and heterosexual adults.
Methods: Analyses were conducted using a probability-based sample of data pooled from three U.S. states' Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) surveys (Maine, Washington, Wisconsin) that administered the ACE scale and collected information on sexual identity (n = 22,071).
Results: Compared with heterosexual respondents, gay/lesbian and bisexual individuals experienced increased odds of six of eight and seven of eight adverse childhood experiences, respectively. Sexual minority persons had higher rates of adverse childhood experiences (IRR = 1.66 gay/lesbian; 1.58 bisexual) compared to their heterosexual peers.
Conclusions: Sexual minority individuals have increased exposure to multiple developmental risk factors beyond physical, sexual and emotional abuse. We recommend the use of the Adverse Childhood Experiences scale in future research examining health disparities among this minority population.