Years after Sexual Abuse by Priests, Psychic Sequelae Remain for Men. (Depression, Substance Abuse Common)

By Sherman, Carl | Clinical Psychiatry News, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Years after Sexual Abuse by Priests, Psychic Sequelae Remain for Men. (Depression, Substance Abuse Common)


Sherman, Carl, Clinical Psychiatry News


NEW YORK -- Children and adolescents who are sexually abused by priests are extremely likely to suffer from depression and substance abuse later in life. Many have been suicidal, and most experience ongoing problems in their spiritual and sexual lives.

Those were the chief findings of a series of in-depth psychiatric interviews, conducted over the last 10 years among 26 men who had undergone such abuse, Dr. Lynn Ponton reported at the annual meeting of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry.

Anal penetration, the use of physical force, and the age at the time of abuse had a significant impact on later symptoms. Contrary to expectations, few of the abused went on to victimize others.

The average age at initial abuse in the series was 12 years, ranging from 5 to 17; most fell within the 10- to 13-year group. Patterns ranged from a single incident to an ongoing coercive relationship that spanned 18 years. The average duration was 2 years.

Most had maintained long silence about their abuse--an average of 18 years. Only four had told about the abuse soon after it had happened. Many had married, but only one had described his abuse to his wife.

"I was often the first person they had told about the explicit nature of the events," said Dr. Ponton, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

Of the 26 men in the study, 22 (85%) were depressed at the time of evaluation, most often at a moderate level. More than half of the entire group had a history of suicidal ideation or attempts.

Twenty-three (88%) of the men admitted to past or present misuse of alcohol or drugs (most commonly alcohol), she said.

This might well have represented an attempt at self-medication, Dr. Ponton conjectured, noting that substance abuse was not particularly common in patients' families of origin. That many of the boys were given alcohol--often in the form of communion wine--just before the sexual abuse apparently had a "tremendous" impact on long-term substance use patterns, she said. …

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