Self-inflicted injuries are one of the major causes of disease burden and death globally. Understanding the extent to which this is associated with childhood sexual abuse (CSA) exposure can help inform prevention strategies. We aimed to quantify to what extent CSA was associated with incident suicide attempts in men and women.


We searched 20 health and social science databases from first record until February 2009 and updated the search in Medline from February 2009 to February 1, 2013. Longitudinal studies and cotwin analyses from twin studies in any population from any year were eligible for inclusion. Of 22 235 abstracts screened as part of a series of reviews, 9 studies met the inclusion criteria for this review. Characteristics, effect estimates, and quality data were extracted. Random-effects meta-analysis was used to generate pooled odds ratios (ORs).


Seven longitudinal and 2 twin studies with 8733 participants met the inclusion criteria. The overall pooled estimate for longitudinal studies was OR = 2.43 (95% confidence interval: 1.94–3.05), I2 = 87.5%, P < .0001. The pooled OR from cotwin analysis was 2.65 (95% confidence interval: 0.82–4.49, I2 = 0%, P = .867). Studies adjusted for a range of confounders, but baseline suicidal behavior was not well-controlled. Too few studies met the inclusion criteria to quantitatively examine sources of heterogeneity.


CSA exposure is associated with suicide attempts when a range of different confounders are controlled for, but the temporality of the association is not well established, and the association is highly heterogeneous.

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