From Childhood Sexual Abuse to Adolescent Risky Behavior

It is well-established that childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is followed by increased rates of substance use and risky behavior in adolescence. The Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) have provided data from multiple sites that make it possible to test mechanisms linking CSA to subsequent risky behavior.

A team of LONGSCAN researchers analyzed data for 832 youths for whom information about maltreatment in childhood was available, who were assessed with the CBCL at age 12, and who were interviewed at age 14 about their history of alcohol use and sexual intercourse (Jones et al., 2013). For both girls and boys, it was found that histories of CSA indirectly predicted alcohol use via elevated CBCL Externalizing scores.

However, CSA predicted sexual intercourse indirectly via elevated Externalizing scores only for girls. Although the researchers predicted that CSA would also increase risky behavior via elevated Internalizing scores, this prediction was not supported. It was speculated that the lack of significant support for Internalizing problems as predictors of risky behavior might stem from the caregivers’ lack of sensitivity to the youths’ Internalizing problems, but this explanation seemed unlikely, because self-reported Internalizing problems yielded results like those found for caregivers’ CBCL ratings.

Reference: Jones, D. J., Lewis, T., Litrownik, A., Thompson, R., Proctor, L.J., Isbell, P., Dubowitz, H., English, D., Jones, B., Nagin, D., & Runyan, D. (2013). Linking childhood sexual abuse and early adolescent risk behavior: The intervening role of internalizing and externalizing problems. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 41, 139-150.