Type and severity of child abuse and college students' lifetime suicidality

Child Abuse Negl. 1997 Dec;21(12):1169-76. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(97)00092-6.


Objective: The present study compared reported histories and severity of child sexual abuse, child physical abuse, and both, in college men and women.

Method: Four hundred and eighty-six consenting undergraduates completed measures of suicidality, sexual abuse (SA), and physical abuse (PA). Based on their responses, they were categorized into 12 mutually exclusive groups: no PA/no SA (n = 234), moderate PA/no SA (n = 78), severe PA/no SA (n = 34), no PA/mild SA (n = 21), moderate PA/mild SA (n = 12), severe PA/mild SA (n = 5), no PA/moderate SA (n = 20), moderate PA/moderate SA (n = 15), and severe PA/moderate SA (n = 10).

Results: Participants who reported both severe sexual and severe physical abuse reported more lifetime suicidality than participants who reported either mild sexual and/or physical abuse. Those who reported sexual abuse involving invasive sexual acts such as rape, and physical abuse involving behaviors that resulted in physical injury to the child, were more suicidal than those who reported less severe abuse. In addition, although combined sexual and physical abuse correlated with increased suicidality, unexpectedly, there was no interaction. Finally, women students endorsed more reasons for living than men and about the same level of suicidal ideas and global suicidality, despite a greater likelihood of having been abused.

Conclusions: The absence of an interaction between sexual and physical abuse suggests that this increased suicidality is additive rather than multiplicative. An implication is that college counseling personnel need to be aware of the suicidal risk of women and men students reporting either sexual or physical abuse.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / classification
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Factors
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires