Girls who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to have genitourinary health problems than teenage girls in general and boys who have been abused, says a Quebec study whose results were published in The Journal of Pediatrics .
Although the psychological sequelae associated with sexual abuse in children have been the subject of several studies, this is not the case for the physical consequences on the sexual health of victims.
This piqued the curiosity of researcher Pascale Vézina-Gagnon, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal, who devoted part of her doctoral thesis.
To carry out the study, a group of 882 girls and boys assaulted during their childhood was compared to a control group of children of the same age.
Cases of sexual assault handled by the Director of Youth Protection were cross-referenced, in particular with data on medical consultations from 2001 to 2010 of the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec and the Department of Health and Services social.
Several sexual health problems in girls
The study shows that girls in the group of children who were abused experienced twice as much urinary problems and 1.4 times more genital problems than girls in the control group.
The most common diagnoses include urinary tract infections and menstrual problems.
“This research has major clinical benefits,” said Pascale Vézina-Gagnon in a statement released Tuesday, because so far we knew little about the impact of sexual assault on the physical health of young victims, specifically on the health of the genitourinary system, whereas it is, in general, directly affected during the sexual assault. ”
“In light of the results, she says, it is imperative to put in place intervention and prevention protocols to limit the chronicity of these health problems into adulthood. ”
A gap between girls and boys
The research results show that, on average, girls end up with seven times more problems with their urine and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and 4.5 times more genital problems than boys.
The study also reveals that one or more sexual assaults do not “affect the number of diagnoses of genitourinary problems in boys”.
The researcher makes some assumptions to explain this phenomenon.
“It’s possible that the consequences of sexual abuse for boys are manifested by other health problems, such as gastrointestinal disorders or other somatic symptoms,” says Ms. Vézina-Gagnon.
“A recent study found that sexual abuse in boys was more closely associated with serious health problems requiring hospitalization,” she adds.
No difference in the number of STIs
Another important aspect of the study is the diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
For both girls and boys, no difference was reported in the number of STI diagnoses comparing the group of children who were abused to the control group.
According to Pascale Vézina-Gagnon, this result contradicts the results of other studies.
“This could be explained by the relatively young age of participants at the end of the study in 2013,” says Ms. Vézina-Gagnon.
“Although the sexual activity of the participants is not known in this study,” she says, “it can be assumed that a proportion of these were not yet sexually active or had been sexually active for some time. Also, since STIs are often asymptomatic, they are not noted as the main reason for medical consultation in the database of the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec. ”
Specify the factors
The study concludes that future research on this topic should focus on whether genitourinary health problems are associated with increased psychological problems as a result of a traumatic experience such as sexual assault, in addition to the factors that explain the higher risks for girls who are sexually abused.
The researcher also intends to push her future research in this direction.
“My hypothesis is that among girls who have been sexually assaulted, those who have suffered more mental health problems will also be those who are more likely to have urinary and genital problems in the years following the sexual assault,” Pascale Vézina-Gagnon concludes.
Nancy Miller (MD) has over 20 years experience as a educator and health practitioner. She has a B.S. from Lake Head University In Thunder Bay, and a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Guelph . Dr. Miller has worked as a special medical consultant for a major insurance provider before becoming a freelance health author and public speaker. There are several ways to contact Dr. Miller here.