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Womens Health Issues. 2012 Jan-Feb;22(1):e35-43. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2011.07.003. Epub 2011 Aug 26.

Do Asian-American women who were maltreated as children have a higher likelihood for HIV risk behaviors and adverse mental health outcomes?

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  • 1Boston University School of Social Work, Boston, MA 02215, USA.



This study is the first to systematically investigate whether multiple child maltreatment is associated with HIV risk behaviors and adverse mental health outcomes among Asian-American women.


We conducted a cross-sectional study of unmarried Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese women (n = 400), aged 18 to 35, who are identified as children of immigrants, using computer-assisted survey interviews.


Approximately 7 in 10 women reported having been maltreated as a child and 6.8% reported any type of sexual abuse. Only 15% of our sample reported having sex at age 16 or before, yet almost 60% had ever engaged with potentially risky sexual partners. Contrary to the findings from previous studies of White and Black women, sexual abuse plus other maltreatment was not associated with HIV risk behaviors among Asian-American women. However, it was associated with a marked increase in depression, lifetime suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. A higher education level was associated with increased odds of HIV risk behaviors, including ever having had anal sex and ever having potentially risky sexual partners.


There was no evidence indicating that multiple child maltreatment was linked with HIV risk behaviors, but it exhibited a robust association with poor mental health outcomes. These empirical patterns of internalizing trauma, suffering alone, and staying silent are in accord with Asian-cultural norms of saving face and maintaining family harmony. The prevention of multiple child maltreatment may reduce high levels of depression and suicidal behaviors in this population. It is urgent to identify victims of multiple child maltreatment and provide culturally appropriate interventions.

Copyright © 2012 Jacobs Institute of Women's Health. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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