Child-abuse victims face increased emotional problems as adults, study finds

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The effects of child abuse and neglect may plague victims well into their adult lives, surfacing in the form of suicide attempts, learning difficulties and trouble finding employment, an expert on criminal justice and psychology reported yesterday.

These long-term emotional and educational problems may be more common than delinquency and violent criminal behavior, according tothe preliminary findings of a study that so far has involved 500 young adults, half of whom were victims of child abuse, researcher Cathy Spatz Widom said.


For example, 25 percent of the women she interviewed who were abused or neglected as children had tried to commit suicide by the time they were in their 20s or 30s, Ms. Widom said at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Ms. Widom, director of the Hindelang Criminal Justice Research Center at the State University of New York at Albany, said her report is preliminary. Not all data have been analyzed in the study, which will include 700 people, she said.


In an earlier study of 1,575 children, half of them child-abuse victims, Ms. Widom found that abuse and neglect sharply increased the odds of children becoming criminals as adults. The likelihood of arrest as a juvenile rose by 53 percent and of arrest as an adult by 38 percent.

Although the majority of victims did not become criminals as adults, abuse or neglect as a child increased the rate of arrest for women by 77 percent over those who had not been victimized.

"Knowledge gained from this study of children who survive or thrive under severely stressful conditions such as child abuse and neglect should help others living through these experiences," she said.

Not all harmful effects come from physical or sexual abuse or the type of neglect -- severe omission of adequate food, clothing or shelter -- examined in the Widom study, according to another specialist on the panel who discussed family violence and child abuse yesterday.

Children identified at infancy as having parents who were emotionally unresponsive experienced a significant drop in an overall development test known as the Bayle test between the ages of 1 and 2, said Byron Egeland of the University of Minnesota.