Jean-Louis Thomas, Violaine Guerin, Pierre Levy, Maria Carette, Nathalie Regensberg de Andreis and Philippe Lacrosse
Objective: This study aimed to assess the connection between sexual abuse and self-reported lifetime physical and psychiatric disorders.
Subjects and Method: Samples of 178 French subjects (170 women and 18 men) who have been sexually abused have agreed to answer a computerized questionnaire and give the characteristics of their aggression and the physical and psychiatric pathologies they suffered afterwards. They also reported symptoms of anxiety and depression using the 14-item Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) scale. Reported disorders were grouped by system organ class. χ2 test or exact test of Fisher was used to test association of main characteristics of sexual abuse (type and duration of abuse, multiple/single assault and perpetrator) with each item of medical history.
Results: 83% of respondents had experienced several sexual assaults, with a first assault occurring mainly during childhood and adolescence. The average length of the sexual abuse period was 2.4 times longer in women, compared to men (9.2 vs. 3.8 years). Most frequently alleged types of abuse were touching (85.5%) and rape (76.6%). The mean age of disclosure of sexual violence was approximately 21 years and the average time between the first abuse and disclosure about 12 years. The most frequent reported physical disorders were chronic pain, allergic, dermatological and gynaecological disorders, and surprisingly ENT disorders. There was in the sample a high prevalence of depression, sleep disorders and suicide attempts. At the time of the investigation the mean HAD scores were 7.0+4.7 and 11.7+4.6 for depression and anxiety respectively. Most reported disorders were significantly correlated with the severity of the sexual abuse (rape, duration, number of assaults and/or perpetrators). It was also shown that the delay of disclosure was significantly longer for victims whose first attack occurred when they were younger.
Conclusion: A history of sexual abuse is associated with a high prevalence of multiple physical and psychiatric disorders at rates comparable to those found in previously published studies.
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