Evaluating the Association Between Childhood Sexual Abuse and Attempted Suicide Across the Lifespan: Findings From a Nationwide Study of Women in Jail

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Abstract

Previous studies have found childhood sexual abuse to predict suicidal behavior in adulthood. Women in jail suffer disproportionately high rates of childhood sexual abuse and attempted suicide relative to women in the general population. Thus, better understanding the association between childhood sexual abuse and attempted suicide among women in jail may inform prevention, assessment, and treatment initiatives for this at-risk population. This study examined the association between childhood sexual abuse and the onset of attempted suicide across the life span in a nationwide sample of women in jail. Participants included a randomly selected subsample of women (N = 115), drawn from a larger probability sample (N = 491), who completed Life History Calendars, which were coded for the presence/absence of attempted suicide and childhood sexual abuse across life history stages. Survival analysis and Cox regression indicated that women with histories of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by an adult or a peer were significantly more likely to have attempted suicide across the life span, including increased risk for the onset of attempted suicide in adulthood. This study demonstrates the salience of childhood sexual abuse as a predictor of suicidal behavior among women in jail, and extends previous research by demonstrating the temporal sequence of childhood sexual abuse relative to attempted suicide across the life span. Given these findings, researchers, clinicians, and policymakers should consider further the influence of childhood sexual abuse with regard to the high rates of attempted and completed suicide among women in jail.

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