Childhood Sexual Abuse and Girls' Delinquency: A Longitudinal Perspective

Laura McCloskey, Harvard School of Public Health
Jennifer Bailey, University of Arizona
Erika Lichter, Harvard School of Public Health

Child sexual abuse has been linked to girls' increased risk for delinquency and adult crime. The reasons for this association remain unclear. In this nine-year longitudinal study of 150 girls in which child sexual abuse and family violence were assessed when they were on average nine years old, we seek to better understand how childhood victimization translates into increased risk for delinquency in later years. Adolescent depression, the quality of the parent-child relationships, and dating behavior in early adolescence are examined as potential mediators linking child sexual abuse and the onset of criminal activity in young adulthood. Findings indicate that adolescent depression results from child sexual abuse and is associated with girl's increased later delinquency as measured by court arrest records and self-reports; the early onset of dating behavior is also an indicator, but especially dating with partners who are more than five years older. This pattern of dating suggests that the girls are forming liaisons with antisocial men that further socialize them into criminal patterns.

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Updated 05/20/2006