Case Characteristics, and Long-Term Psychological Correlates of Child Rape
Among Women: A National Survey
Priscilla Schulz, LCSW
from an article of the same title by:
Benjamin E. Saunders, Dean G. Kilpatrick, Rochelle F. Hanson, Heidi S. Resnick, Michael E. Walker, Medical University of South Carolina
Child Maltreatment, V. 4, (3), 187-200, August 1999
What is the scope of this article?
This article reviews earlier studies suggesting that women raped in childhood are more vulnerable to depression, substance use, PTSD and other problems. It then presents survey results. Three questions are answered by the new data. 1) How common is child rape? 2) What are some of the characteristics of these assaults? 3) Are women raped as children more likely to develop particular psychological problems?
How was the survey conducted?
A representative national sample of women was contacted by telephone and interviewed. They were screened for a history of child rape and answered questions about the assaults, current functioning, and their mental health history. They were also assessed for the presence of specific diagnosable disorders using standard criteria.
What are some of the statistically significant findings?
It is estimated that 8.33 million American women were raped before they were 18 years old. This number is consistent with previous estimates given the differences in definitions and methods used. That younger women reported more child rape may mean that the rate of child rape has increased considerably over the last half century. On the other hand this may be due to victims dying younger, or older women forgetting or being less forthcoming about traumatic childhood experiences. That childhood sexual abuse is a risk factor for developing depression, PTSD and substance abuse is supported, though the former has not been shown to cause the latter.
What are the implications of this study?
Prevention efforts may be tailored to the circumstances. At different ages children appear to be vulnerable to different perpetrators. Younger children are at more risk than teenagers from sexual assaults by their own fathers and brothers. Teens are at more risk than other groups from boyfriends, peers, and strangers. All are at greatest risk from known non-relatives.
The number of child rapes reported to authorities is distressingly low.
A history of victimization ought to be routine during clinical mental health examinations. All adult mental health clients should be screened for a history of child rape.
Results give clinicians a better overall picture of child rape, allowing them to put a particular case into a realistic context, which may affect assessment and treatment.
Reviewed by Priscilla Schulz, September 1999