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Br J Psychiatry. 2008 Mar;192(3):166-70. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.106.030650.

Childhood sexual abuse and non-suicidal self-injury: meta-analysis.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York 11794-2500, USA.



Many theorists posit that childhood sexual abuse has a central role in the aetiology of self-injurious behaviour. Studies that report statistically significant associations between a history of such abuse and self-injury are cited to support this view.


A meta-analysis was conducted to determine systematically the magnitude of the association between childhood sexual abuse and self-injurious behaviour.


Forty-five analyses of the association were identified. Effect sizes were converted to a standard metric and aggregated.


The relationship between childhood sexual abuse and self-injurious behaviour is relatively small (mean weighted aggregate phi=0.23). This figure may be inflated owing to publication bias. In studies that statistically controlled for psychiatric risk factors, childhood sexual abuse explained little or no unique variance in self-injurious behaviour.


Theories that childhood sexual abuse has a central or causal role in the development of self-injurious behaviour are not supported by the available empirical evidence. Instead, it appears that the two are modestly related because they are correlated with the same psychiatric risk factors.

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