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Risk Factors for Sexual Victimization of Women: Results From a Prospective Study

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 9 Issue: 8 Dated: August 2003 Pages: 902-930
Date Published
August 2003
29 pages

Based on data from a sample of predominantly low-income, urban, African-American women, half of whom were known victims of sexual abuse in childhood during the 1970's, this study examined whether women who were sexually abused as children are at increased risk for sexual abuse later in life; the study also investigated the role of sexual behavior and alcohol problems as potential risk factors while controlling for family background factors that could increase the risk of victimization.


During the first wave of data collection (1973-75), 206 girls, who ranged in age from 10 months to 12 years and were victims of reported cases of sexual abuse, were examined as part of a larger study of the consequences of sexual assault. In the study's second wave (1990-91), follow-up interviews were conducted to determine the adult consequences of child sexual abuse and the validity of children's disclosures of sexual abuse incidents; 136 of the original sample of 206 victims, then aged 18 to 31, were located and interviewed. During this wave a comparison group was identified in order to examine whether child sexual abuse was associated with delinquency or adult criminality, based on official criminal records. In the third wave (1996-97), a second wave of follow-up interviews was conducted with both the official victims and women in the comparison group. The total sample at wave 3 consisted of 496 women, 206 of whom were known victims of reported child sexual abuse; 249 of the 496 women were located and contacted. The variable measured pertained to sexual abuse at various ages, family background, alcohol use, and sexual history and behavior. Chi-square analysis was used to determine whether categorical variables were significantly related to each other at the bivariate level, and t tests and ANOVA were used to determine whether there were significant differences between group means for other variables. When child sexual abuse was operationalized as a sample dichotomy, those who had been sexually victimized as children (before the age of 13) did not have significantly higher rates of adult victimization than those who had not; however, those who were victimized both as children and as adolescents were at increased risk for victimization as adults. As hypothesized, variables related to a woman's sexual behavior also increased the risk for adult sexual abuse; specifically, having multiple sexual partners significantly increased the risk of such victimization. Alcohol abuse was also a statistically significant factor in predicting increased risk of adult sexual victimization. Suggestions are offered for future research. 2 notes, 6 tables, and 48 references

Date Published: August 1, 2003