Impact of Sexual Abuse on Children: A Review and Synthesis of Recent Empirical Studies

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Abstract

A review of 45 studies clearly demonstrated that sexually abused children had more symptoms than nonabused children, with abuse accounting for 15–45% of the variance. Fears, posttraumatic stress disorder, behavior problems, sexualized behaviors, and poor self-esteem occurred most frequently among a long list of symptoms noted, but no one symptom characterized a majority of sexually abused children. Some symptoms were specific to certain ages, and approximately one third of victims had no symptoms. Penetration, the duration and frequency of the abuse, force, the relationship of the perpetrator to the child, and maternal support affected the degree of symptomatology. About two thirds of the victimized children showed recovery during the first 12–18 months. The findings suggest the absence of any specific syndrome in children who have been sexually abused and no single traumatizing process.

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