1-parent households double risk of childhood sexual abuse

March 13, 2007

PHILADELPHIA -- Adult men who grew up in one-parent households are more likely to have been abused as children, according to a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine. William C. Holmes, MD, MSCE, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, and at the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, reports his findings in the March 13th issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

"Children being raised by one parent are at a greater risk for many things as they grow up, including health risks such as poorly-controlled diabetes and asthma," said Holmes. "We now must add childhood sexual abuse to part of this risk picture."

The study adjusted for socioeconomic status, and still found that children of one-parent households were at an increased risk for childhood sexual abuse. Though all one-parent homes appeared to have imparted risk-for-abuse, risk-for-abuse in one-parent homes was higher in the lower income groups than it was in the higher income groups.

"There is definitely something about being raised by one-parent that independently contributes to the higher risk for sexual abuse. While children from lower income one-parent households are at a higher risk, better socioeconomics of the household don't make the risk go away completely."

Holmes believes that there may be a psychological and emotional aspect involved in the increased risk for all one-parent homes.

According to Holmes, single-parent homes are likely to have the parent absent a good portion of the time because she or he must work to provide all the basic necessities for the family. Unfortunately, the children of this absentee parent will likely be looking for an adult to bond with, to share experiences with. "Predators are pretty good at finding and grooming these sorts of kids," said Holmes. "They set children up over time, earn their trust, act as parent-substitutes by giving them attention and sometimes gifts."

Holmes believes that when you add low socioeconomic status to the equation, the likelihood for a predator having easy access to emotionally-needy children is increased by the type of childcare facilities available to children of low-income, single-parents. These often are not facilities with good oversight of who the child caregivers are. And oftentimes, a single-parent just has to trust that all is okay, and trust is not as thorough as a background check.

"The individuals that are heading up these one-parent homes are unsung heroes, serving in the dual capacity as parent and provider, and are doing amazing things," concluded Holmes. "Studies like this one call for interventions that will provide more help to these heroes and the homes they head up... for example, through actual funding of better childcare facilities and/or increasing oversight of who provides the childcare at such facilities."
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FOR EMBARGOED RELEASE:
March 13, 2007

PENN Medicine is a $2.9 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn's School of Medicine is ranked #2 in the nation for receipt of NIH research funds; and ranked #3 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report's most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System includes three hospitals, all of which have received numerous national patient-care honors [Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center]; a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home care and hospice.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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