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Childhood exposure to sexual abuse and partnership outcomes at age 30

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2009

M. D. Friesen*
Affiliation:
Canterbury Child Development Research Group, Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
L. J. Woodward
Affiliation:
Canterbury Child Development Research Group, Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
L. J. Horwood
Affiliation:
Christchurch Health and Development Study, Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand
D. M. Fergusson
Affiliation:
Christchurch Health and Development Study, Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand
*
*Address for correspondence: Dr M. D. Friesen, Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, Private bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand8140. (Email: myron.friesen@canterbury.ac.nz)

Abstract

Background

In this study, 30-year longitudinal data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study (CHDS) were used to examine the associations between childhood exposure to sexual abuse and intimate relationship outcomes at age 30. In addition, a broad range of early childhood and family confounding factors were tested, and the role of intervening factors from adolescence was explored.

Method

The investigation analyzed data from a birth cohort of over 900 New Zealand adults studied to the age of 30. At ages 18 and 21 cohort members reported on any exposure to sexual abuse prior to age 16. This information, along with prospective data gathered in childhood and adolescence, was used to predict partnership outcomes at age 30.

Results

After adjustment for early childhood and family factors, exposure to more severe forms of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) was associated with earlier and more frequent cohabitation, higher rates of perpetrated interpartner violence (IPV), and early parenthood, lower relationship satisfaction and investment. Several factors from adolescence partially or fully mediated these associations, notably a history of early consensual sexual intercourse, higher number of sexual partnerships, substance abuse problems, and self-esteem. After adjustment for intervening factors, exposure to CSA remained significantly associated with IPV.

Conclusions

The findings support a causal chain process, whereby early childhood and family factors place some individuals at risk for CSA. The extent of CSA exposure is related to adolescent risk taking, which in turn leads to early and more frequent cohabitation, risk of IPV, and lower relationship satisfaction and investment.

Type
Original Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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