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J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1996 Oct;35(10):1375-83.

Age of onset of sexual abuse: relationship to sexually inappropriate behaviors.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Washington, Seattle 98195, USA.



To examine how the age of onset of sexual abuse predicted inappropriate sexual behaviors in a sample of seriously mentally ill youths.


A retrospective chart review was completed for all youths treated from 1987 through 1992 at a tertiary care public sector psychiatric hospital (n = 499). Subjects were grouped according to the age at which they were first sexually abused: no sexual abuse (n = 225), 0 through 3 years (n = 78), 4 through 6 years (n = 105), 7 through 12 years (n = 71), and 13 through 17 years (n = 19).


The rates of sexually inappropriate behaviors in subjects with sexual abuse histories were quite substantial, ranging from 79.5% of the 0- through 3-year group to 42.1% of the 13- through 17-year group. Subjects first abused during early childhood, especially during the ages 0 through 3 years, had significantly elevated rates of hypersexual, exposing, and victimizing sexual behaviors. They also were significantly younger at the time of admission, came from more disrupted family settings, and had significantly higher rates of physical abuse, neglect, chronic sexual abuse, sexual abuse by either parent/stepparent and a higher total number of victimizers. When logistic regression analyses were done to examine the predictive power of potential risk factors, early age of onset of sexual abuse was the most significant predictor of all three types of inappropriate sexual behaviors.


Onset of sexual abuse prior to 7 years of age was significantly associated with hypersexual, exposing, and victimizing sexual behaviors. Early sexual abuse is also associated with a number of other poor prognostic factors, and further research is needed to define how these variables interact.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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