Sexually abused girls: patterns of psychopathology and exploration of risk factors
This paper studies the patterns of psychopathology in sexually abused girls. It also explores some environmental risk factors for psychopathology including abuse characteristics and environmental experiences. The data are derived from the baseline assessment of 81 sexually abused girls referred to the London Child Sexual Abuse Psychotherapy Outcome Study (collaborative Tavistock and Maudsley project). Data about abuse were collected from the parent or foster parent using a standardised, semi-structured interview format. The girls’ psychopathology was assessed using the Kiddie-SADS schedule. Widespread and serious psychopathology in sexually abused girls attending a psychotherapy clinic previously reported in a smallscale study was confirmed; so, too, was the extent of comorbidity and impairment of psychosocial functioning. Further, a significant association was found between children looked after away from home and high rates of Separation Anxiety Disorder. No such significant associations were found for Major Depressive Disorder nor impairment of functioning. Multivariate prediction analysis revealed that significant predictors of Major Depressive Disorder consisted of seriousness of abuse, the abuser not being a parent figure, and the abuse not being recent; the only significant predictor of Separation Anxiety Disorder was that the abuser was not a parent figure; finally, impairment of general functioning was strongly predicted by the greater seriousness of abuse and also by the abuser/s not being a parent figure. Theoretical explanations advanced for the reported associations have a sense of face validity: that girls abused by strangers will be at risk of developing Separation Anxiety Disorders; that serious sexual abuse is followed by the development of a Major Depressive Disorder and a high level of impairment of social functioning.
Key wordssexual abuse severity onset perpetrator psychiatric disorder
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