, Volume 46, Issue 3, pp 255-262
Date: 11 Jun 2010

Child sexual abuse reported by an English national sample: characteristics and demography

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The 2007 adult psychiatric morbidity survey in England provides detailed information of high quality about sexual abuse. Given the major psychiatric implications of child sexual abuse (CSA), we aimed to establish its sociodemographic distribution in the general population.


The experience of sexual abuse was elicited in a random sample of the English household population (N = 7,353), using computer assisted self-completion interviewing. Respondents were handed a laptop, and entered their responses to detailed questions. The interviewer was blind to their responses. CSA was defined as occurring before the age of 16.


2.9% of women and 0.8% of men reported CSA involving non-consensual intercourse, figures that rose to 11.1 and 5.3% if experiences involving sexual touching were included. CSA was common before puberty, but peaked in adolescence. CSA greatly increased the chance in adulthood both of further sexual abuse (OR 10.6; CI 8.9–12.6), and of prostitution (OR 3.3; CI 1.9–5.5). There was no association with ethnicity or social class, but people over 65 were less likely to report CSA. The odds of CSA were doubled in those not brought up with both biological parents until the age of 16.


CSA is common, particularly in women, and is not the preserve of any particular social group. Its frequency and its association with psychiatric consequences render it a major public health issue.