"I Will Never Know the Person Who I Could Have Become": Perceived Changes in Self-Identity Among Adult Survivors of Clergy-Perpetrated Sexual Abuse
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Clergy-perpetrated sexual abuse (CPSA) during childhood represents a tragic betrayal of trust that inflicts damage on the survivor, the family, and the parish community. Survivors often report CPSA has a disturbing impact on their self-identity. Despite intense media coverage of clergy abuse globally in the Catholic Church (and other faith communities) over several decades, relatively few empirical studies have been conducted with survivors. Beyond clinical observations and advocacy group reports, very little is known about survivors’ perceptions of how the abuse impacted their long-term self-identity. Using data collected during the 2010 Health and Well-Being Survey, this qualitative analysis represents one of the first large-scale studies with a non-clinical sample of adult male survivors of CPSA from childhood (N = 205). The negative effects of the sexual abuse on participants were expressed across six domains of self-identity: (a) total self, (b) psychological self, (c) relational self, (d) gendered self, (e) aspirational self, and (f) spiritual self. These findings highlight the range and depth of self-suffering inflicted by this pernicious form of sexual violence. The findings are useful for developing clinical services for survivors, shaping public and institutional policies to address clergy-perpetrated sexual abuse, and guiding future research with this population.
Journal of Interpersonal Violence
This publication has been entered into Griffith Research Online as an Advanced Online Version.
Social Work not elsewhere classified