Sexual Abuse of Girls and Adult Couple Relationships: Risk and Protective Factors
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Child sexual abuse (CSA) of girls is common and associated with a range of negative adult outcomes, especially difficulties in intimate relationships. However, CSA does not inevitably result in these outcomes. Aspects of the abuse and the family environment, and several mediating variables influence the association between CSA and adult relationship outcomes. However, researchers have been unable to reliably determine which CSA survivors will experience negative relationship outcomes in adulthood. This thesis sought to describe the abuse and family-of-origin characteristics which account for the variability in adult relationship functioning of CSA survivors. This thesis also sought to examine variables that mediate the association between CSA and adult relationship functioning. Five thousand women (18 to 41 years) were randomly selected from the electoral roll and sent a questionnaire examining childhood experiences and adult relationship functioning: 1,335 responses were received. CSA was reported by 45% of the sample and was associated with a range of negative adult relationship outcomes. Using latent class analysis of their abuse characteristics CSA survivors were divided into three meaningfully different classes: the family, friend, and stranger abuse classes. Women in the family abuse class compared to other CSA survivors experienced the most severe abuse, the highest rate of family-of-origin dysfunction, the lowest rate of adult relationship satisfaction, and the highest rate of separation and divorce. CSA survivors, particularly those abused by a family member or friend, compared to nonabused women were more likely to develop an insecure attachment to their adult partner and extreme gender role beliefs. An insecure adult attachment and extreme gender role beliefs predicted the use of more destructive and fewer constructive coping strategies, which was associated with negative relationship outcomes including relationship and sexual dissatisfaction and partner sexual coercion. The classification of CSA used in the current study provides greater specificity in identifying those CSA survivors most at risk of experiencing relationship difficulties in adulthood. The findings of the current study also suggest that increasing CSA survivors’ use of constructive coping skills and decreasing their use of destructive strategies would assist them to have more positive experiences in their adult intimate relationships.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)
School of Psychology
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