Psychological Reports, 1990, 66, 449-450. @ Psychological Reports 1990
VALIDITY OF A SHORT MEASURE OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE FOR USE IN ADULT MENTAL HEALTH SURVEYS CHRISTOPHER BAGLEY University of Calgary ' Szimmary.-An 18-yr. follow-up of 49 children for whom presence or apparent absence of sexual abuse was independently verified by social service reports in childhood, indicated partial validity for a recently developed measure of sexual abuse. Of 19 subjects known to have been sexually abused in childhood, 74% recalled details of such abuse when young adults.
A number of surveys of adult populations in Canada and the United States have asked subjects to recall events of sexual abuse in childhood (7). I n none of these studies has there been any evidence of validity, i.e., independent evidence on whether the sexual abuse actually took place (4). Independent evidence on events w h c h often took place many years before and were not reported to anyone, is extremely difficult or impossible to obtain. Another problem is the eclipse of memory of these traumatic events as part of psychological survival. Such memories may emerge only after therapeutic treatment of a dissociation syndrome (6) or after an event such as a father's death (2). The possibility of validating a measure of child sexual abuse which was developed for use in adult mental health surveys (3) arose from a followup study with 57 women in London, England who in the late 1960s were removed from parental care (1) and who were followed-up as young adults (5). Social service records indicated that 20 of the 57 children permanently removed into care had been sexually abused. Mental health assessment when subjects were young adults indicated that sexual abuse was associated with the poorest mental health outcomes, all other factors controlled (5). Further interviews were undertaken four years later, when the subjects were on average 27.7 yr. old. Of the 57 subjects 49 (19 of 20 who were known to have been sexually abused) completed interviews in which mental health measures were repeated; subjects also completed a new instrument measuring recall of unwanted sexual acts before age 17 (3). Fourteen of the 19 women for whom independent evidence indicated that serious within-family, sexual assault had occurred during childhood, did as addts r e c d events of "unwanted" abuse, with details confirming data in social service files on who had abused them, over what period, and what assaults occurred. Two of the remaining five subjects for whom there was
'Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada.
independent evidence of prior abuse felt that they had been subjected to unwanted sexual contact at some time but could give no clear details. One subject could not recall the verified abuse but did report being raped at 16 yr. Two subjects in the "known abuse" group did not as adults identify any "unwanted" sexual acts in childhood, even though it was known that both had been subjected to serious abuse (as defined by social workers) over several years. Five of the 30 subjects removed from parents for physical abuse or neglect and for whom extensive social service records indicated no sexual abuse prior to coming into care, did recall unwanted sexual contact with an adult. The rate of "true positives" is 73.6% versus 83.3% "true negatives" ( X 2 = 15.4, p