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Child Sexual Abuse Victims at Risk

A new Australian study suggests victims of child sexual abuse are at increased risk of suicide and accidental fatal drug overdose later in life.

Dr. Margaret Cutajar, a psychologist from Monash University, Melbourne, and her co-authors, Professors James Ogloff and Paul Mullen, investigated rates of fatal self-harm in 2,759 people who were medically ascertained as being victims of child sexual abuse (CSA) between 1964 and 1995.

They found significantly higher rates of suicide and accidental fatal drug overdose in the CSA cohort compared with age-limited national data for the general population, with relative risks of 18.09 for suicide and 49.22 for accidental fatal drug overdose in CSA victims.

The study is found in the Medical Journal of Australia, a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

Dr. Cutajar said it was surprising that anxiety was the most commonly reported diagnosis among the 20 CSA victims who died from self-harm and for whom psychiatric information was recorded.

Depression and psychosis have been consistently shown to be strong predictors of suicide; however, most of the CSA victims in our study who died from self-harm had a recorded diagnosis of anxiety disorder,” Dr. Cutajar said.

“These findings suggest that victims of CSA who die from self-harm have a different psychopathological profile to non-abused individuals who die from self-harm.”

The study also found that, on average, almost 20 years had passed from examination for CSA to death, indicating that CSA was not an immediate precipitant to fatal self-harm.

In an accompanying editorial in the MJA, Prof. Ross Kalucy, director of emergency mental health at Flinders Medical Centre, SA, writes that more work needs to be done in examining the intermediary variables in development for victims of CSA who develop psychological problems in adolescence and young adulthood.

“Although child sexual abuse is a marker for later psychosocial problems, it may not be the critical formative experience,” Prof. Kalucy said.

“The complex psychopathological conditions that are associated with disorders of adolescence and young adulthood need more investigation, and their association with child sexual abuse needs explanation.”

Source: Medical Journal of Australia

Child Sexual Abuse Victims at Risk

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Child Sexual Abuse Victims at Risk. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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