Clinical characteristics of children presenting with a suspicion or allegation of historic sexual abuse

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Abstract

Introduction

Police-recorded sexual offences against children and young people (CYP) increased 85% in the UK between 2010/2011 and 2014/2015. Many children delay disclosure, but little data are available regarding characteristics of CYP presenting with historic child sexual abuse (CSA).

Aim

To identify the clinical and CSA-related characteristics of CYP presenting with a suspicion or allegation of historic CSA.

Method

Data were collected on all CYP<17 years presenting with suspected or alleged historic CSA (ie, >3 days since last sexual assault in prepubertal children, >7 days pubertal girls) between October 2009 and November 2014. Data collected: source and indication for referral, alleged perpetrator, physical findings. Findings supportive of CSA were peer reviewed for consensus agreement. Analysis: χ2 test, Fisher’s exact test and logistic regression.

Results

Among 249 CYP, presentation with physical/behavioural symptoms was associated with age <13 years (p<0.01), and alleged penetration with ages 13–17 years (p<0.01). Where known, time since alleged CSA ranged from 1 week to 13 months. Anogenital findings supportive of CSA were present in 7% of examined children (16/233), significantly associated with alleged penetration (p<0.01) and more likely with increasing age (OR 1.46, 95% CI 1.23 to 1.72). Additionally, where tested, sexually transmitted infections (STI) were detected in 2.6% CYP (3/116). Alleged perpetrators were intrafamilial in 66% (126/190). No associations were identified between perpetrator type and gender (p=1.0), age (p=0.7) or indication for referral (p=0.35).

Conclusions

Despite significant time delay since the alleged CSA, this study highlights the persistence of anogenital findings supportive of CSA in 7% and STIs in 2.6% of CYP.

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