Chronic child sexual abuse, psychiatric, and medical conditions among adolescents in residential care

Margo A Drohan, University of Rhode Island


Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a strong predictor of mental and physical health in adult retrospective studies. It is estimated that 40% of known CSA occurs repeatedly for 6 months or more. These children are most vulnerable to long-term health sequelae of chronic CSA. Little is known about the relationship between early experiences of CSA and health status during adolescence, a critical period for the identification and management of chronic illness. DeBellis’s Developmental Traumatology (DT) Theory, stating a causal relationship between abuse, psychiatric outcomes, and abnormal growth and development was used to guide this study. The purpose of this study was to compare adolescents residing in a treatment school for children with emotional disabilities - those students with a history of chronic CSA before age twelve to those students without any CSA - with regard to number and type of psychiatric and medical conditions. Secondary data from de-identified medical records of 25 children with a history of CSA (Group I) were compared to 25 children without CSA (Group 2) was used to answer the research questions. The two groups were not significantly different with regard to demographic variables. Two psychiatric diagnoses, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression, were significantly higher in Group I with CSA, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) was higher in Group II without CSA. Group I had significantly higher numbers of medical conditions and higher numbers of Axis IV conditions than Group II. Three medical diagnoses, hypothyroidism, asthma, and abnormal glucose, and two social environment problems, primary support and education were significantly higher in Group I than Group II. Females had a statistically higher duration of exposure to CSA than males. Group I students with CSA may exhibit early signs of chronic illness, and maybe at higher risk for long term chronic illnesses. This information is important to health-providers, social service, and other providers to target this population for early intervention and treatment to minimize the possible long-term health sequelae associated with CSA.

Subject Area

Nursing|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Margo A Drohan, "Chronic child sexual abuse, psychiatric, and medical conditions among adolescents in residential care" (2011). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3450793.