An examination of risky sexual behavior and HIV in victims of child abuse and neglect: a 30-year follow-up

Helen W Wilson, Cathy Spatz Widom
Health Psychology: Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association 2008, 27 (2): 149-58

OBJECTIVE: This article examined links between childhood maltreatment and risky sexual behavior (early sexual contact, promiscuity, prostitution) and HIV in adulthood.

DESIGN: Using a prospective cohort design, physically and sexually abused and neglected children (ages 0-11) with documented cases during 1967-1971 were matched with nonmaltreated children and followed into adulthood.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Early sexual contact, promiscuity, and prostitution were assessed through in-person interviews and official records (prostitution) at approximate age 29 (N=1196). HIV tests were conducted at approximate age 41 (N=631).

RESULTS: Child maltreatment was associated with prostitution (OR=2.47, 95% CI=1.35-4.50) and early sexual contact (OR=1.73, 95% CI=1.24-2.40). Prevalence of HIV in the abuse/neglect group was twice that in controls (OR=2.35, 95% CI=.64-8.62), although this difference did not reach conventional levels of statistical significance. SEM provided significant support for a model linking child abuse and neglect to prostitution through early sexual contact and a marginal link to HIV through prostitution.

CONCLUSION: These findings provide prospective evidence that maltreated children are more likely to report sexual contact before age 15, engage in prostitution by young adulthood, and test positive for HIV in middle adulthood.

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