Relationship of childhood sexual, physical, and combined sexual and physical abuse to adult victimization and posttraumatic stress disorder

Child Abuse Negl. 1998 Nov;22(11):1119-33. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(98)00090-8.


Objective: Prior research has suggested that women who experience childhood sexual abuse are at increased risk for sexual victimization and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in adulthood. However, previous studies have paid insufficient attention to the overlap of childhood sexual and physical abuse. In the present study we disentangled the separate and combined effects of childhood sexual and physical abuse by comparing groups of participants who reported contact childhood sexual abuse only (SA), sequelae of childhood physical abuse only (PA), combined childhood sexual and physical abuse (CA), or no child abuse (NA).

Method: A sample of 475 female college students completed measures of sexual and physical abuse in childhood (before age 15) and adulthood (after age 15), PTSD and trauma symptoms, and demographic variables. Of these participants, 27 were assigned to the SA group, 53 to the PA group, 31 to the CA group, and 211 to the NA group.

Results: The highest rate of adult sexual and/or physical victimization was reported by the CA group, followed by the PA group, with lower rates reported by the SA and NA groups. Using adult victimization as a covariate, the analyses revealed that the CA group reported significantly higher rates of PTSD and trauma symptoms compared to the NA group.

Conclusions: The results suggest that prior reports of differences in rates of adult victimization and PTSD between women who experienced childhood sexual abuse and women who did not may be attributable to the inclusion of participants with a history of combined childhood sexual and physical abuse in childhood sexual abuse groups. The importance of separating physical and combined forms of victimization from sexual abuse is discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child Abuse*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual*
  • Domestic Violence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illinois
  • Minority Groups
  • Prevalence
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology*