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Objectives  The aim of this study was to determine whether there was an association between any lifetime experiences of emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse and perceived abuse in the health care system. Furthermore, we wanted to ascertain if adult victims of perceived abuse in the health care system reported exposure to childhood emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse more often than non-victims did.

Design  A cross sectional questionnaire study. The first hypothesis was tested in the total sample, and the second hypothesis in a case–control analysis. The cases were those women who reported perceived experiences of abuse in the health care system as adults. Exposure was defined as experience of emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse in childhood.

Settings  Three Swedish gynaecological clinics.

Sample  A total of 2439 gynaecology patients (response rate 81%).

Methods  Postal questionnaire.

Main outcome measure  Associations between experiences of emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse, and perceived abuse in the health care system; all operationalised in The NorVold Abuse Questionnaire (NorAQ).

Results  A general association was found between lifetime experiences of emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse and perceived abuse in the health care system. Adult victims of abuse in the health care system reported experiences of emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse in childhood more often than non-victims did. These findings also held after adjustment for age and educational level.

Conclusions  We found associations between experiences of any lifetime abuse and perceived abuse in the health care system. Adult victimisation in the health care system was associated with childhood exposure to emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse. These associations call for attention and need to be further investigated.