Child Sexual Abuse as a Unique Risk Factor for the Development of Psychopathology: The Compounded Convergence of Mechanisms

Child Maltreatment Solutions Network at Penn State

Meta-analytic, population cohort, prospective, and clinical studies provide systematic evidence that child sexual abuse accounts for unique variation in several deleterious outcomes. There is strong evidence for psychiatric disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder and mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders, and mixed evidence for personality disorders. Evaluation of sex-specific outcomes shows strong evidence for teenage childbearing, sexual revictimization, and sexual dysfunction and mixed evidence for heightened sexual behaviors and sexual offending. This review further demonstrates not only that survivors suffer the noxious impact of traumatic sexualization but that additional transdiagnostic mechanisms, including the biological embedding of stress, emotion dysregulation, avoidance, and insecure attachment, converge to compound risk for deleterious outcomes. A road map to enhance the rigor of future research is outlined, and specific recommendations for evidence-based policy making to boost prevention efforts and increase access to treatment are discussed.

Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, Volume 17 is May 2021. Please see for revised estimates.

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