A history of sexual abuse and health: A Nordic multicentre study

Malene Hilden*, Berit Schei, Katarina Swahnberg, Erja Halmesmäki, Jens Langhoff-Roos, Kristin Offerdal, Ulla Pikarinen, Katrine Sidenius, Tora Steingrimsdottir, Hildegun Stoum-Hinsverk, Barbro Wijma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: To determine if a history of sexual abuse is associated with objective and subjective indicators of health and if certain abusive incidents had a stronger impact on health than others. Design: A cross-sectional, multicentre study. Setting: Five gynaecological departments in the five Nordic countries. Sample: Three thousand five hundred and thirty-nine gynaecology patients. Methods: The NorVold Abuse Questionnaire (NorAQ) on abuse history and current health was mailed to all patients who consented to participate. Main outcome measures: Reason for index visit at the gynaecologic clinic as well as several questions on health were recorded. General health status was measured as self-estimated health, psychosomatic symptoms (headache, abdominal pain, muscle weakness, dizziness), number of health care visits and number of periods on sick leave. Result: A history of sexual abuse was reported by 20.7% of respondents. A history of sexual abuse was significantly associated with chronic pelvic pain as reason for index visit (P < 0.01), laparoscopic surgery (P < 0.01), psychosomatic symptoms (P < 0.01), self-estimated poor health (P < 0.01), many health care visits (P < 0.01) and high incidence of sick leave (P < 0.01). Several subgroups within the group of sexually abused women were more likely to report poor health: women abused as both children and adults, women who experienced additional emotional and/or physical abuse and women abused by a person they knew. Conclusion: Sexual abuse has a profound impact on women's health. Taking a history of sexual abuse seems particularly warranted when the patient presents with chronic pelvic pain or symptoms of a vague and diffuse nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1121-1127
Number of pages7
JournalBJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2004


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