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Psychiatry. 2013 Fall;76(3):223-40. doi: 10.1521/psyc.2013.76.3.223.

A characterization of adult victims of sexual violence: results from the national epidemiological survey for alcohol and related conditions.

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Department of Psychiatry, New York State Psychiatric Institute, NY 10032, USA.


Sexual violence can cause acute and persistent negative psychological outcomes among children and adults in a community. Previous studies have frequently reported high prevalence of prior child and adolescent sexual abuse among adult victims of sexual violence. This raises uncertainty over the specific contribution of sexual victimization in adulthood to the adverse psychological outcomes. The present study draws on a large nationally representative sample of adults without history of childhood sexual abuse, and applies diagnostic criteria of DSM-IV, in order to investigate the risk factors and psychiatric comorbidities correlated with sexual victimization in adulthood. In a large representative sample of U.S. adults without history of childhood sexual abuse, 2.5% reported sexual victimization in adulthood. Female gender, living alone, economic disadvantage, and a history of childhood adversities and parental psychopathology were identified as risk factors. Adult sexual victimization increased the risk of developing a variety of psychiatric disorders, especially PTSD (HR = 3.43, 95% CI [2.67, 4.41]) and drug abuse (HR = 3.38, 95% CI [2.49, 4.58]). Conversely, pre-existing psychiatric psychopathology, particularly PTSD (HR = 3.99, 95% CI [2.68, 5.94]) and dysthymia (HR = 2.26, 95% CI [1.42, 3.59]), increased the likelihood of sexual victimization in adulthood. Childhood experience and adulthood sociodemographic characteristics are important in affecting the risk of being sexually victimized in adulthood. Psychiatric disorders can act as both risk factors and outcomes of adult sexual victimization.

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