Background. This study was designed to determine lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders among twins who reported childhood sexual abuse (CSA), and to compare these rates with those among non-abused co-twins. The contribution of familial and individual-specific factors to reported sexual abuse was also examined.
Method. Information about lifetime psychopathology and substance use was obtained by structured telephone interviews with 5995 Australian twins. Twins who reported a history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) were contrasted on lifetime psychopathology with subjects without such a history; in addition, comparisons were made between same-sex twin pairs discordant for CSA.
Results. A history of CSA was reported by 5·9% of the women and 2·5% of the men. In the sample as a whole, those reporting CSA were more likely to receive lifetime diagnoses of major depression, conduct disorder, panic disorder and alcoholism, and were more likely to report suicidal ideation and a history of suicide attempt. Abused women, but not men, were also more likely to report social phobia. When comparisons were restricted to non-abused co-twins, no differences in psychopathology were seen. However, rates of major depression, conduct disorder and suicidal ideation were higher if both co-twins were abused than if the respondent alone reported CSA. Model-fitting indicated that shared environmental factors influenced risk for reported CSA in women, but not in men.
Conclusion. The association between CSA and psychopathology arises at least in part through the influence of shared familial factors on both risk of victimization and risk of psychopathology.
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