Childhood sexual abuse and the consequences in adult women

Gloria Bachmann, Tamerra P. Moeller, Jodi Benett

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


This paper reviews the literature on childhood sexual abuse and its implications for women. It is estimated that at least 15–38% of adults have been sexually abused as children, with figures higher for women than for men. Failure to report abuse is common, and only 20–50% of incidents may come to the attention of authorities. Although childhood sexual abuse is present in all socioeconomic groups, more severe forms of abuse appear to be associated with lower socioeconomic status. After the age of ten, a sharp increase is observed in vaginal intercourse, sexual assaults accompanied by physical violence, and abuse committed by strangers. Although fathers are frequently cited as the primary perpetrators, not all studies support this finding. Other relatives have been reported to account for 20–70% of the sexual abuse occurring within the family. A history of childhood abuse may contribute to sexual problems or multiple chronic complaints in the adult woman. Moreover, some of these women may experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. The gynecologist should use empathetic questioning with all patients regarding abuse, and integrate the patient’s history of abuse with current health care. Physicians who are uncomfortable with this topic or who observe ongoing distress in their patients should refer these women to a mental health practitioner who is familiar with the issues common to women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)631-642
Number of pages12
JournalObstetrics and gynecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1988

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology

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