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Pediatrics. 2010 Sep;126(3):e615-22. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-0496. Epub 2010 Aug 9.

Receptive language and educational attainment for sexually abused females.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Division of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology, 3333 Brunet Ave, MLC 3015, Cincinnati, OH 45229-3039, USA.



The objective of this study was to test whether the experience of childhood sexual abuse is associated with long-term receptive language acquisition and educational attainment deficits for females.


Females with substantiated familial childhood sexual abuse (n=84) and a nonabused comparison group (n=102) were followed prospectively for 18 years. Receptive language ability was assessed at 6 time points across distinct stages of development, including childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Rates of high school graduation and total educational attainment were assessed during young adulthood.


Hierarchical linear modeling revealed that receptive language did not differ between the groups at the initial assessment point in childhood; however, a significant group by time interaction was observed across development with abused females (1) acquiring receptive language at a significantly slower rate throughout development and (2) achieving a lower overall maximum level of proficiency. Significant differences in receptive language scores emerged as early as midadolescence. In addition, abused females reported significantly lower rates of high school graduation and lower overall educational attainment when compared with their nonabused peers.


Exposure to childhood sexual abuse may be a significant risk factor for cognitive performance and achievement deficits for victims. These findings have particular public health relevance given the high prevalence of sexual abuse and that poor cognitive functioning and low levels of educational attainment can contribute to continued adversity throughout the life course. Early intervention may assist victims in improving cognitive functioning, altering deleterious trajectories, and promoting greater life successes.

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