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Child Abuse Negl. 1997 Jan;21(1):49-58.

A study of potential risk factors for sexual abuse in childhood.

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National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia.


Research aimed at identifying risk factors for childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is crucial for the development of preventative strategies. This study examined the relationship between a number of possible risk factors and CSA in a community sample of women using multivariate analysis and carefully operationalized variables. The variables significantly associated with CSA were physical abuse, having a mother who was mentally ill, not having someone to confide in, and being socially isolated. With the exception of physical abuse, different predictors emerged for abuse before and after age 12. Social isolation and experiencing the death of a mother were significant predictors for abuse before age 12, while the predictors of CSA after age 12 were physical abuse and a mentally ill mother. For abuse perpetrated by a family member, the significant predictors of CSA were physical abuse, having no one to confide in, having no caring female adult, and having an alcoholic father. For girls abused by someone outside of the family, the significant predictors were physical abuse, social isolation, mother's death, and having an alcoholic mother. While CSA can happen to any child, this study highlights circumstances that may increase the chances of abuse and should form the basis of prevention and intervention strategies.

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