Women Who Were Sexually Abused as Children Endure Physical and Mental Health Issues for Many Years

A 24-year study of 80 sexually abused girls, conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, finds that the abuse has had a profound impact over their physical and mental development. The girls in the study, all of whom were sexually abused as children, had an average age of 11 when the study began nearly a quarter-century ago. The median age of the girls when they were first abused was 7.5 years.

The results, published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, showed that the girls in the study became sexually active earlier and had more teen pregnancies than their peers who were not abused. The abused girls also showed lower educational development and greater rates of depression, addiction, and obesity. The impact of sexual abuse was not all psychological. The study found that as adults, the abused girls had significant lower levels of cortisol, or stress hormones, in their systems than women who had not been abused as children. Lower levels of cortisol can impact weight, sleep patterns, and depression.

Penelope Trickett, professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California and lead author of the study, stated that the study participants had and an average of only three therapy sessions after the abuse was discovered. “They need more help at the time and as they grow. They need to continue to address the issues.”

The study which is funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, will continue for years to come. Currently researchers are including studies of the children of the women who were abused a quarter-century ago.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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