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Posted 05.11.05

Female Sex-Abuse Victims Face Impaired Future Opportunities, MU Research Shows

COLUMBIA, MO -- As many as one in three girls in the United States experience childhood sexual abuse. As a result, those girls may mature faster and take on adult responsibilities too soon, leading to a lower standard of living and fewer social and educational opportunities, according to a new study from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

In the study, women who experienced childhood sexual abuse had a much lower sense of their own physical attractiveness and a negative self-evaluation. Researchers determined that because of this belief, these women often had lower standards when it came to choosing a mate.

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Follow-up tests with the abused women reported significantly lower incomes, a much greater chance of being on financial assistance and lower education levels than their non-abused counterparts. The abused women also reported having more pregnancies and children.

"The life history of sexual abuse leads to earlier sexual activity, an earlier onset of puberty, and a greater risk for teenage pregnancy," said David Geary, MU professor of psychological sciences. "The experience of sexual abuse in childhood colors their reproductive development and behavior."

The length of childhood is important to give children an opportunity to practice the behaviors and skills they will need as adults, Geary said. According to the study, childhood is cut short for victims of sexual abuse, bringing about the transition from childhood to adulthood sooner than expected, lowering overall physical, emotional and social wellbeing.

"This negative childhood experience creates a domino effect," Geary said. "The abused women face restricted options when it comes to finding a spouse and are not as competent in parenting. However, the availability of community resources to enhance the woman's self-esteem can turn things around before it is too late."

This study, first-authored by Jacob Vigil and co-authored Jennifer Byrd-Craven, MU doctoral students and research assistants, will be published in this month's issue of Developmental Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association.


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