Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Child sexual abuse--children and families referred to a treatment project and the effects of intervention.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987; 295 doi: (Published 05 December 1987) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987;295:1453
  1. A Bentovim,
  2. P Boston,
  3. A van Elburg
  1. Department of Psychological Medicine, Hospital for Sick Children, London.


    The characteristics of a series of 274 families who were referred to a sexual abuse treatment programme were analysed. Information was obtained on 411 abused children and 362 non-abused children. Different forms of sexual abuse were noted, with 77% of girls and 23% of boys affected. Boys tended to be abused at a younger age, more severely, and for longer periods than girls. There was a predominance of lower social class groups among the parents, and a wide variety of family structures, with reasonable stability over time. Ninety six per cent of perpetrators were men, and biological and step-parents predominated. Contributing factors in both the family history and the current perpetrators and their wives included sexual abuse, violence, chaotic families, marital problems, sexual difficulties, alcoholism, and subnormality. Follow up of 120 families, 180 victims, and 226 siblings showed that prosecution occurred in 60% of cases, with a high percentage of perpetrators being imprisoned. Treatment was offered to 87% of families, but because the treatment programme was in the early stages of development a variable number of children and parents were offered family treatment or treatment in groups for parents and children separately. There was an improvement in the victim's circumstances in 61% of cases, and a noticeable reduction in "sexualised" and general emotional difficulties among victims, but there was reabuse rate of 16%. Protection of children was achieved through changes of family attitude and changes in family structure including divorce and separation: 14% of victims were rehabilitated to both parents, 33% to mothers only, and 26% to new families or other residences. Consensus in the family that abuse had occurred was seen as an important factor in determining which children could be rehabilitated with both their parents, with their mothers only, or with new families; which families could be offered or accepted treatment; and whether positive changes in the family occurred.