Women's Childhood Abuse Linked to Later Poor Health
July 17, 2003
from Back to the Science of Mental Health
Women who were physically abused as children are more likely to report having poor health than those who did not experience such abuse, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The study, based on survey results from 3,527 women in Washington State, also suggests that that women who were physically abused or who witnessed violence between their parents are also more likely to experience intimate partner violence and emotional abuse as adults.
Women who were sexually abused but did not suffer other physical abuse or witness parental violence, on the other hand, did not appear to be at a higher risk for intimate partner violence or poor health, according to Lillian Bensley, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Washington State Department of Health.
The association between childhood abuse and poor health persisted even among women who had not recently experienced partner violence, say the researchers. They suggest the link between abuse and poor health may be due to many factors, including the lingering physical and mental effects of childhood abuse or possibly risky health behaviors.
Although the findings suggest a link between childhood experience and adult risks, the researchers say the association may not necessarily lead to health problems in all abused women.
"The role of childhood experiences in adult mental health may depend on the life course that follows; other experiences, such as a positive therapeutic experience or a supportive spouse, may be able to counteract these long-term associations," Bensley and colleagues say.
The researchers also found that women younger than 36 had more than 10 times the risk of intimate partner violence and twice the risk of emotional abuse compared to women 46 years and older, regardless of their childhood experiences.
Data for the study were collected by telephone interviewers. Women who participated in the survey were free to stop the interview at any point, and were also given the phone number for a multilingual domestic violence hotline at the end of each call.