Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Sexual abuse and psychiatric disorder in England: results from the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey

S. Jonasa1, P. Bebbingtona1 c1, S. McManusa2, H. Meltzera3, R. Jenkinsa4, E. Kuipersa4, C. Coopera1, M. Kinga1 and T. Brughaa3

a1 Department of Mental Health Sciences, University College London, UK

a2 National Centre for Social Research, London, UK

a3 Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, Leicester General Hospital, UK

a4 King's College London, UK


Background Evidence is accumulating that child sexual abuse (CSA) is associated with many psychiatric disorders in adulthood. This paper uses the detailed information available from the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey of England (APMS 2007) to quantify links between CSA and a range of psychiatric conditions.

Method The prevalence of psychiatric disorder was established in a random sample of the English household population (n=7403), which also provided sociodemographic and experiential information.

Results We analyzed six types of common mental disorder, alcohol abuse and drug abuse, and people who screened positively for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and eating disorders. All were strongly and highly significantly associated with CSA, particularly if non-consensual sexual intercourse was involved, for which odds ratios (ORs) ranged from 3.7 to 12.1. These disorders were also related to adult sexual abuse (ASA), although the likelihood of reverse causality is then increased. Revictimization in adulthood was common, and increased the association of CSA with disorder. For several disorders, the relative odds were higher in females but formal tests for moderation by gender were significant only for common mental disorders and only in relation to non-consensual sexual intercourse. The population attributable fraction (PAF) was higher in females in all cases.

Conclusions The detailed and high-quality data in APMS 2007 provided important confirmation both of the strength of association of CSA with psychiatric disorder and of its relative non-specificity. Our results have major implications at the public health level and the individual level, in particular the need for better recognition and treatment of the sequelae of CSA.

(Received January 12 2010)

(Revised April 30 2010)

(Accepted May 04 2010)

(Online publication June 10 2010)


c1 Address for correspondence: Professor P. Bebbington, Department of Mental Health Sciences, UCL, Charles Bell House, 67–73 Riding House Street, London W1W 7EJ, UK. (Email: