Approximately 10 percent of American adults were sexually abused as children, according to a study reported in Comprehensive Psychiatry. They are more at risk of psychopathology and suicide attempts than are adults who were not sexually abused as children.
This study fits with other evidence. The global prevalence of child sexual abuse has been estimated at 19.7% for females and 7.9% for males, based on a 2009 paper published in Clinical Psychology Review that examined 65 studies from 22 countries. Studies have generally found that in North America approximately 15% to 25% of women and 5% to 15% of men were sexually abused when they were children.
The Comprehensive Psychiatry study was headed by Carlos Blanco, M.D., a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. It included a large national sample of the United States population—some 34,000 individuals aged 18 or older. They were interviewed face to face, and psychiatric diagnoses were made according to DSM-IV criteria.
“Our study has clinical and preventive implications,” Blanco and his colleagues said. “The initial effects of child sexual abuse include…sleep and eating disturbances, fears and phobias, depression, shame, guilt, anger…school problems, truancy, running away, and inappropriate sexual behavior. Therefore, clinical screening for child sexual abuse is important for early treatment to reduce the impact of psychological trauma.”