By Holly Lebowitz Rossi

Girls who are sexually abused as children may suffer behavioral, physical, and emotional problems decades after the abuse takes place, a new study has found.  The study, published in the current issue of the journal Development and Psychopathology, found higher rates of obesity, depression, cognitive and mental problems, and sleep disturbance among women in their 30s who had been the victims of incest between ages 2 and 16.  The study tracked the girls for 23 years through therapy sessions and blood tests to check hormone levels.

MSNBC reports on the findings:

The study's lead author, Penelope Trickett, a professor of Social Work at the University of Southern California, told MSNBC that although the findings are striking, they do not mean that all victims of childhood abuse are destined to struggle throughout their whole lives.

"These women are more likely to have problems in mental health and physical health than those who haven't been abused," she said. "But it really varies to what degree they are disabled by these challenges. Some are managing their lives pretty well, considering what they went through."

The researchers hope the study might be used to develop more comprehensive treatment programs that promote early intervention and well-rounded support.

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