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child sex abuse is a public health issue

Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences
The University of Auckland

Call for child sex abuse to be recognised as a public health issue

Child sex abuse should be acknowledged as a public health issue according to researchers studying survivors’ needs.

A University of Auckland paper, recently published in the Women & Health journal, has highlighted some of the issues faced by female child sexual abuse survivors when dealing with health professionals.

One in four New Zealand women has been affected by child sex abuse and adult survivors tend to suffer more general medical and mental health problems.

“We know women who were abused as children have more gynaecological problems and higher rates of breast cancer, than those who have not been abused. They also have higher rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder,” says lead author Dr Kim McGregor.

“Health professionals are well-placed to improve outcomes for survivors of child sexual abuse and their families”.

“Providing specialist training is the key to enabling health care professionals to be aware of the specific needs of survivors of child sexual abuse and deliver positive interventions. Having well trained and supported health care professionals aware of how to screen for and respond to reports of child sex abuse would help create a supportive environment in which survivors would feel safer to disclose the abuse and talk openly about their healthcare needs,” she says.

The study participants were asked what advice they would give health professionals dealing with women with histories of sexual abuse.

As a result, the authors identified a need for health professionals to be better able to identify the effects of sexual abuse, establish a relationship of trust, ask about their history, respond appropriately to disclosure, provide medical examinations in a sensitive way and follow up with patients post-examination.

Dr McGregor says further investigation into the perceptions of health practitioners regarding their interactions with child sexual abuse survivors would also help inform the best-care model.


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