Girls, who experience physical abuse early in life, may hit puberty eight to 12 months earlier than their non-abused peers, thus increasing their chances of developing depression, substance abuse and teenage pregnancy.
According to researchers, sexual abuse in particular forces the children to physically mature at a faster rate, which is linked to breast and ovarian cancers due to the increased exposure to the hormone estrogen over a longer period. "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 researcher Dr Jennie Noll from Child Maltreatment Solutions Network.
"High-stress situations, such as childhood sexual abuse, can lead to increased stress hormones that jump-start puberty ahead of its standard biological timeline," Dr Noll explained. The study, conducted at Pennsylvania State University, compared the pubescent trajectories of 84 females with a sexual abuse history and 89 of their non-abused counterparts. They tracked from pre-puberty to full maturity via a system known as Tanner staging and looked at pubic hair and breast development as two separate markers for pubescent change.