Suicide and fatal drug overdose in child sexual abuse victims: a historical cohort study

Margaret C Cutajar, Paul E Mullen, James R P Ogloff, Stuart D Thomas, David L Wells and Josie Spataro
Med J Aust 2010; 192 (4): 184-187.


Objective: To determine the rate and risk of suicide and accidental fatal drug overdose (ie, overdose deemed not to have been suicide) in individuals who had been medically ascertained as having been sexually abused during childhood.

Design: A historical cohort linkage study of suicide and accidental drug-induced death among victims of child sexual abuse (CSA).

Setting and patients: Forensic medical records of 2759 victims of CSA who were assessed between 1964 and 1995 were obtained from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and linked with coronial data representing a follow-up period of up to 44 years.

Main outcome measures: Rates of suicide and accidental fatal drug overdose recorded in coronial databases between 1991 and 2008, and rates of psychiatric disorders and substance use recorded in public mental health databases.

Results: Twenty-one cases of fatal self-harm were recorded. Relative risks for suicide and accidental fatal overdose among CSA victims, compared with age-limited national data for the general population, were 18.09 (95% CI, 10.96–29.85; population-attributable risk, 0.37%), and 49.22 (95% CI, 36.11–67.09; population-attributable risk, 0.01%) respectively. Relative risks were higher for female victims. Similar to the general population, CSA victims who died as a result of self-harm were predominantly aged in their 30s at time of death. Most had contact with the public mental health system and half were recorded as being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Conclusion: Our data highlight that CSA victims are at increased risk of suicide and accidental fatal drug overdose. CSA is a risk factor that mediates suicide and fatal overdose.

  • Margaret C Cutajar1
  • Paul E Mullen1
  • James R P Ogloff1
  • Stuart D Thomas1
  • David L Wells2
  • Josie Spataro3

  • 1 Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 2 Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 3 Noesis Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy Centre, Melbourne, VIC.


We thank the teams responsible for maintaining the coronial and psychiatric databases — Marde Hoy and Lachlan Rimes in particular — and Lauren Ducat for their invaluable assistance with data collection. This study was jointly funded by the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science and the Department of Psychological Medicine, Monash University.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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