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Mental and sexual health outcomes following sexual assault in adolescents: a prospective cohort study

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Sophie Khadr, Venetia Clarke, Kaye Wellings, Laia Villalta, Andrea Goddard, Jan Welch, Susan Bewley, Tami Kramer, Russell Viner

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)654-665
JournalThe Lancet Child & Adolescent Health
Volume2
Issue number9
Early online date19 Jul 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018

King's Authors

Abstract

Background
Young people are disproportionately affected by sexual assault, yet longitudinal data are sparse. This paper examines the characteristics of adolescents presenting to sexual assault services and mental and sexual health outcomes after an assault.

Methods
This was a prospective cohort study in adolescents aged 13–17 years attending the Sexual Assault Referral Centres serving Greater London, UK, over 2 years. Baseline interviews (T0) were done less than 6 weeks after an assault to collect data on sociodemographic and assault characteristics and psychological symptoms, with follow-up interviews (T1) at 4–5 months after the assault. Four psychological symptom questionnaires were used at T0 and T1: The Child Revised Impact of Events Scale, the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire, the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Disorders, and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. The primary outcome was prevalence of any psychiatric disorder at T1, assessed using the Development and Wellbeing Assessment. Secondary outcomes at T1 were pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and sexual health screening since the assault.

Findings
Between April 15, 2013, and April 20, 2015, 141 (29%) of 491 eligible young people were recruited to the study (134 females; mean age 15·6 years [SD 1·27]), and 106 (75%) of 141 participants had T1 interviews (99 female). At T0, psychological symptom scores showed that 115 (88%) of 130 females were at risk for depressive disorder, 90 (71%) of 126 were at risk for anxiety disorders, and 116 (91%) of 128 were at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, with symptoms largely persisting at T1. 68 (80%) of 85 females who had a diagnostic assessment at T1 had a psychiatric disorder, with multiple disorders in 47 (55%) of 85. Anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and major depressive disorders were the commonest diagnoses. Presence of a psychiatric disorder was associated with baseline psychosocial vulnerability (previous social services involvement, mental health service use, self-harm, or sexual abuse), but not assault characteristics. At T1, four (4%) of 105 females had been pregnant since the assault, 14 (12%) of 119 had a sexually transmitted infection diagnosed between T0 and T1, and nine (8%) of 107 reported re-victimisation since the assault.

Interpretation
Vulnerable adolescents have the double disadvantage of being at risk for both sexual assault and associated psychiatric disorders, highlighting the need for comprehensive support after an assault. Feasibility and effectiveness of prevention programmes should be investigated.

Funding
National Institute for Health Research Policy Research Programme grant (115/0001).

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