Sexual abuse is one of the most challenging adverse life events that a teenager can encounter. There is an increased oxidative stress process in psychiatric disorders that may result due to a chronic stress exposure. Oxidative stress can damage central nervous system by glutamate-mediated excitotoxicity and lipid peroxidation that results in chronic inflammation. Direct studies examining the relationship between sexual abuse and oxidative stress are limited in the literature. In this study, we aimed to investigate the oxidative stress parameters, psychopathologies and related sociodemographic factors in adolescents exposed to sexual abuse.
Adolescents between 12 - 17 years of age who has reported sexual abuse, were referred to our University Child Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic as forensic cases were included in the study with age- sex matched controls. A detailed socio-demographic form was used for the evaluation of study participants. Assessment of psychopathology and clinical functioning were carried out with the Turkish version of the Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia Interview for Children- Version of Life and Now (K-SADS), Beck Depression Inventory, Beck Anxiety Scale, Post Traumatic Response Scale, Ways of Coping Inventory, Strengths and Difficulties Scale, and List of Negative Life Events.
Our sample consisted of 50 cases of sexual abuse (42 girls and 8 boys) and 40 controls (32 girls and 8 boys). The mean ages were 14, 88 ± 2, 16 in the study group and 14,90 ± 2,18 in the controls. School continuity in the study group was significantly lower (p: 0.001) and were coming from distressed families with relatively much lower income (p< 0.001). In cases of sexual abuse, reports of penetration (60%), physical violence (46%) and suicide attempt (34%) were described in the majority of the cases. Prior to abuse, psychiatric referrals were present in 46% of the cases and most frequent current diagnoses were Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (78.2%), depression (78.2%), and specific phobia (60.8%). The functionality scores were lower than controls (p< 0.001) whereas negative life events were significantly higher (p< 0.001) in the sexual abuse group.
The level of oxidative stress assessed by total oxidant level (TOS), total antioxidant level (TAS) and oxidative stress index (OSI) showed a significant higher oxidative stress (p: 0.005) and diminished antioxidant process profile (p: 0.001) in sexual abuse group. TOS and OSI values were significantly higher in the study group while TAS values were significantly lower than controls.
Negative impact of oxidative stress on quality of life and functionality, as well as the increased risk of acquiring a chronic psychiatric illness would be meaningful in seeking answers to epigenetic hypotheses among the fields of child and adolescent abuse.