Does the impact of child sexual abuse differ from maltreated but non-sexually abused children? A prospective examination of the impact of child sexual abuse on internalizing and externalizing behavior problems Academic Article uri icon

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  • Child sexual abuse (CSA) continues to be a significant problem with significant short and long term consequences. However, extant literature is limited by the reliance on retrospective recall of adult samples, single-time assessments, and lack of longitudinal data during the childhood and adolescent years. The purpose of this study was to compare internalizing and externalizing behavior problems of those with a history of sexual abuse to those with a history of maltreatment, but not sexual abuse. We examined whether gender moderated problems over time. Data were drawn from the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) at ages 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16 (N=977). The Child Behavior Checklist was used to assess internalizing and externalizing problems. Maltreatment history and types were obtained from official Child Protective Services (CPS) records. Generalized Estimating Equations (GEE) were used to assess behavior problems over time by maltreatment group. Findings indicated significantly more problems in the CSA group than the maltreated group without CSA over time. Internalizing problems were higher for sexually abused boys compared to girls. For sexually abused girls internalizing problems, but not externalizing problems increased with age relative to boys. This pattern was similar among maltreated but not sexually abused youth. Further efforts are needed to examine the psychological effects of maltreatment, particularly CSA longitudinally as well as better understand possible gender differences in order to best guide treatment efforts.


  • Lewis, Terri
  • McElroy, Erika
  • Harlaar, Nicole
  • Runyan, Desmond

publication date

  • January 2016