Sexual Abuse and Eating Disorders Essay

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Sexual Abuse and Eating Disorders

The possible relationship between sexual abuse and the development of an eating disorder has gained attention over the last few years. Researchers have attempted to clarify this potential link using a variety of population samples and research methodologies. As will be shown, the results of these investigations are rather diverse and sometimes inconclusive. In the following review of the literature, the complex relationship between sexual abuse and eating disorders will be examined while also discussing the methodological limitations of the various designs.

Anorexic Samples

Steiger and Zanko (1990) compared rates of incestuous abuses (sexual contacts with family members) and extrafamilial abuses
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To compare rates of sexual traumata among eating disordered women to those among women with other psychiatric disturbances (eating disorders excluded), a group of 21 women in hospital inpatient or outpatient treatments was formed, all within the age range of the eating disordered subjects who were not actively psychotic or heavily medicated. A normal control group contained 24 women consisting of hospital staff, parents, friends, and students comparable in age to the eating disordered subjects.

The Defense Style Questionnaire (DSQ, Bond, Gardner, Christian, & Sigal, 1983; Bond & Vaillant, 1986) was used to assess defense styles. In order to study sexual traumata, the authors used a self-report questionnaire on which subjects indicated the following about sexual traumata during their childhood and adolescence: (1) the perpetrator; (2) the victim; (3) the nature of the abuse; (4) the frequency of the abuse; and (5) their age when the abuse occurred. Also, to determine the presence of eating disorders among the control subjects, the authors chose to use the Eating Attitudes Test (Garner & Garfinkel, 1979).

The authors noted that 30% of the eating disordered women reported sexual traumata; however, such traumata was prevalent among bulimics (particularly those with no anorexic history), but was rare among anorexic restricters. Furthermore, subjects showing mixed anorexic and bulimic symptoms, showed prevalence of sexual
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