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Language disorder and retrospectively reported sexual abuse of girls: severity and disclosure

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Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

Published online on


Background Despite emerging evidence for an association between communication disorders and maltreatment, little research has examined sexual abuse characteristics or disclosure experiences among individuals with language disorder (LD). Given that communication difficulties may constitute a barrier to disclosure, the disclosure experiences among individuals with and without communication difficulties may also differ. Methods Five‐year‐old children identified with a language and/or speech disorder from a nonclinical community sample and a control group were followed to adulthood in a prospective longitudinal study. At age 31, participants completed a behaviorally specific questionnaire on experiences of sexual abuse and questionnaires on disclosure experiences and social reactions to disclosure. Due to low endorsement of sexual victimization among male participants and low sample size, results are reported for women only and exclude nine participants with speech disorder without LD. Participation rates were 28 of 40 in the LD cohort and 45 of 51 controls. Sexual victimization severity was defined using an index combining five indicators (duration, invasiveness, relationship to perpetrator, coercive tactics used, and number of perpetrators). Subthreshold sexual victimization was defined as a single, noncontact incident with a perpetrator unknown to the child; experiences with greater severity were classified as child sexual abuse. Results Among women who reported sexual victimization by age 18, invasiveness and overall severity were greater in the LD cohort than in the control cohort. Women in the LD cohort (43%) were more likely than controls (16%) to report child sexual abuse, excluding subthreshold experiences. There were no differences between cohorts in probability of disclosure, latency to disclosure, or social reactions. Conclusions Women with a history of child LD in a nonclinical sample reported substantial child sexual abuse experiences. Implications for understanding associations between LD and mental health and for prevention and early intervention are discussed.