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Gender in Suicide Attempt Rates and Childhood Sexual Abuse Rates: Is There an Interaction?


Psychiatry Service 116A, Department of Veterans Affairs, New Jersey Healthcare System, 385 Tremont Avenue, East Orange, NJ 07018; E-mail:


Two competing explanations for higher rates of attempted suicide in women than men were compared. Because childhood sexual abuse is more prevalent in girls than boys, one explanation of higher rates of suicide attempts in women is that it is a direct result of the higher incidence of sexual abuse in girls. Alternatively, higher rates of suicide attempts might result from gender differences in the impact of childhood sexual abuse on suicidal behavior. To compare these theories, data from 1,889 abstinent, substance-dependent patients who completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) and who were interviewed about suicide attempts was examined. Scores on each scale of the CTQ were examined as a function of gender and attempter status. Results showed higher rates of suicide attempts in women than in men, higher CTQ scores in women than men, and a higher CTQ score in attempters than nonattempters. However, logistic regression indicated that gender and abuse did not interact to determine attempter status. Thus, the data support the first hypothesis that the greater frequency of suicide attempts in women may be partly attributed to the higher prevalence of childhood sexual abuse in girls. The generalizability of these results to the general population and to other diagnostic groups requires further study.