08:32pm Thursday 05 December 2019

Post traumatic stress among survivors of sexual abuse



Published in Paediatrics & Child Health, the investigation found that therapy from professionals and support from family are crucial to help young girls overcome sexual abuse.

Researchers evaluated 67 girls, aged 7 to 12 years old, after they reported sexual abuse. During interviews, at a specialized clinic of the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center, sexual abuse was ranked according to three criteria: very severe sexual abuse (oral, vaginal, anal penetration or attempted penetration) severe sexual abuse (unclothed touching) and less severe sexual abuse (touching while clothed or exhibitionism).

“We found that 46.3 percent of the girls evaluated following sexual abuse suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder,” stresses lead author Martine Hébert, a professor in the Department of Sexology at the Université du Québec à Montréal. “High parental support, especially maternal support, served as a protective factor against post-traumatic stress disorder in the majority of sexual abuse survivors,”

As part of the study, the research team also interviewed mothers to measure four elements of psychological distress – anxiety, depression, irritability and cognitive problems – and asked about the depth of support they offered their daughters after sexual abuse was disclosed and how often these children witnessed parental conflicts. “Those children who witnessed physical violence among their parents displayed higher post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Claire Allard-Dansereau, a pediatrics professor at the Université de Montréal Faculty of Medicine and Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center.

Additional key findings from the study reveal:

  • One-quarter of the girls were sexually abused on a single episode, while almost half had experienced chronic sexual abuse lasting more than six months.
  • Close to two-thirds of the abusive acts were considered to be severe.
  • In 50 percent of cases, the perpetrator came from the immediate family and from the extended family in one-fifth of cases.
  • Some 53.7 percent sexually abused girls came from single-parent families.
  • Only a minority of perpetrators in extra-familial cases were unknown to the victim.
  • Some 98.5 percent of perpetrators were male.
  • Two-thirds of perpetrators were between 20 and 59 years of age, and one-fourth were younger than 19 years old.
  • Approximately 50 percent of the mothers had been sexually abused during their own childhood.
  • A fourth of mothers reported physical violence from their spouse

Post-traumatic stress disorder from sexual abuse can be mitigated, according the authors. “Acknowledging how a child copes, as well as a parent’s psychological distress or adjustment to disclosure of sexual abuse, will help therapists focus their interventions on the child and ultimately help the family,” says Anne-Claude Bernard-Bonnin, a pediatrics professor at the Université de Montréal Faculty of Medicine and Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center.

About the Study:
The article “Disclosure of sexual abuse, and personal and familial factors as predictors of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in school-aged girls,” published in the Canadian Paediatric Society’s journal, Paediatrics & Child Health, was authored by Anne-Claude Bernard-Bonnin, and Claire Allard-Dansereau of the Université de Montréal and its affiliated Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center in collaboration with Martine Hébert and Isabelle V. Daignault from the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Partners in Research:
This study was funded by the Fond québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

On the Web:


For more information, please contact:
Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins
International press attaché
Université de Montréal
Telephone: 514-343-7593

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