Long-term consequences of child sexual abuse. Adult role fulfillment of child sexual abuse victims

Activity: PhD thesis ExaminationPhD thesis examination


This dissertation examined the long-term outcomes after CSA on domains related to the transition to adulthood: relationships, parenthood, criminal careers, and income and employment. First, a systematic review was conducted of the literature on the effect of CSA on education, employment, offending, relationships, and parenting. From the literature it appears that, in general, CSA victims differ from non-victims not so much in that they less often fulfill adult roles, but that they experience lower quality of some of these roles. Findings also showed that CSA victims on average end up at lower educational levels than non-victims. Additionally, CSA victims appear more likely to be arrested in adulthood. CSA was also consistently found to be related to more partner violence, increased risk of divorce or separation, and teenage parenthood. Furthermore, CSA victims tend to have less positive experiences as a parent. In a first empirical study, the effect of CSA characteristics on family outcomes was studied. For that, a prospective study design was employed, with data on CSA gathered from court files. The outcomes were measured from register data, 30 years after the abuse. Overall, it was found that the relationship to the offender and the age at which the abuse happened, impacted outcomes more than the specific nature of the abuse. More specifically, it was found firstly that the younger victims were at the time of abuse, the less likely they were to marry. Abuse by a nuclear family member increased the odds of early marriage. Secondly, CSA victims abused by a nuclear family member were more than twice as likely to divorce compared to victims of abuse by a stranger. Thirdly, victims of CSA perpetrated by a nuclear family member were more likely to become a teenage parent than victims of other perpetrators. In a second empirical study, the effect of CSA victimization on recorded offending was studied. A number of pre-existing child, family, and environmental factors was controlled for by including not only a control group comprised of people from the general population of similar age and gender as the victims, but also a control group of same-sex siblings. Offending rates among victims were found to be the highest, followed by siblings, while rates of offending were lowest among random controls. Male victims did not differ in their offending behavior from their brothers, while female victims were only slightly more likely to offend than their sisters. CSA victims who offended committed all sorts of offenses, instead of ‘specializing’ in one type of crime such as sex offenses. In a third empirical study, the effect of CSA victimization on income, employment and social benefits was studied. CSA victims were found to have been less often employed than random controls, but not less than their siblings. Victims had lower quality employment than controls, but again not significantly lower than their siblings. Victims had lower incomes than random controls, as well as lower incomes than their siblings. Victims were more often recipients of incapacity benefits than both random controls and siblings. Regarding unemployment benefits none of the groups differed. Victims depended more often on subsistence benefits than random controls, as previous research found, but not more so than their siblings. This dissertation is scientifically relevant as it overcame some important shortcomings in previous research on CSA and the adaptation of adult roles. First, by employing a sibling design, which enabled us to partly control for shared pre-existing characteristics. Second, by using prospective data, with, third, an independent assessment of CSA victimization. Fourth, prospectively gathered officially registered objective data on adult role outcomes, with, fifth, no loss to follow-up.
Period12 May 2022
Examination held at
Degree of RecognitionInternational