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Psychosomatics. 1989 Winter;30(1):73-9.

Sexual abuse in patients with anorexia nervosa and bulimia.


Few studies have documented the extent and nature of sexual abuse among women who later come to treatment for anorexia nervosa or bulimia. This comparison study reports on a sample of 158 patients admitted to an eating-disorder unit, of whom 60 gave a history of sexual abuse, compared to 98 with no history of abuse. Fifty percent of the anorexic and bulimic patients had suffered sexual abuse, compared to only 28% of patients admitted with other eating-disorder diagnoses; this was a significant difference (p less than 0.001). Of the four types of abuse surveyed, only those patients suffering rape were likely to have sought help from caregivers prior to admission (p less than 0.001). The authors report on likely perpetrators of abuse, age of first abuse, and frequency of depressive symptoms in the abused population. The data from this study strongly suggest that the possibility of sexual assault or abuse must be assessed and the results included in a comprehensive therapy plan for eating-disorder patients.

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