Young children who have been sexually abused are significantly more likely than non-abused children to develop behavioral, educational and chronic health problems over time, according to findings published in the August issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood. Dr. C. J. Hobbs, of St. James’s University Hospital, Leeds, UK, and colleagues studied outcomes of 140 children identified in 1989 as having been sexually abused at the age of 7 years or younger, compared with 83 other children who were classmates at the time of diagnosis.

According to a retrospective review of hospital and school health records, 60% of sexually abused children developed a wide variety of adverse behaviors over the 8-year follow-up compared with 16% of classmate controls. Twenty-four percent of sexually abused children also developed educational problems over the same follow-up interval, compared with only 5% of controls. “Chronic health problems were [also] generally more common in the abuse group,” the authors report.

These health problems included referral to mental health services, which occurred in 32% of the abused children compared with only one child among the control group. A review of school health records also revealed that 35% of the abused children continued to experience abuse compared with 0% of control children. In 43 of these children, the abuse was sexual, the researchers add. “Our main point is that the diagnosis of sexual abuse simply marks the child as likely to have significant problems in the future,” the authors comment.

They hope that “as child abuse becomes increasingly recognized as a major threat to health, that health professionals will apply tried and true tenets of public health and medical practice to implement case finding, intervention and prevention of this disease.”

Arch Dis Child 2000;83:132-134.

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