Girls who are exposed to childhood sexual abuse are likely to physically mature and hit puberty at rates eight to 12 months earlier than their non-abused peers, shows a study.
"Though a year's difference may seem trivial in the grand scheme of a life, this accelerated maturation has been linked to concerning consequences, including behavioural and mental health problems and reproductive cancers," said Jennie Noll, Professor at Pennsylvania State University in the US.
‘Due to increased exposure to estrogens over a longer period of time, premature physical development such as this has been linked to breast and ovarian cancers.’
The body is timed so that physical and developmental changes occur in tandem, assuring that as a child physically changes, they have adequate psychological growth to cope with mature contexts.
"High-stress situations, such as childhood sexual abuse, can lead to increased stress hormones that jump-start puberty ahead of its standard biological timeline," Noll explained.
"When physical maturation surpasses psychosocial growth in this way, the mismatch in timing is known as maladaptation," Noll said.
For the study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Noll and her team compared the pubescent trajectories of 84 females with a sexual abuse history and 89 of their non-abused counterparts.
"We found that young women with sexual abuse histories were far more likely to transition into higher puberty stages an entire year before their non-abused counterparts," Noll stated.
"Due to increased exposure to estrogens over a longer period of time, premature physical development such as this has been linked to breast and ovarian cancers. Additionally, early puberty is seen as a potential contributor to increased rates of depression, substance abuse, sexual risk taking and teenage pregnancy," Noll added.