Men who were sexually abused in childhood: Coping strategies and comparisons in psychological functioning

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O'Leary, Patrick J
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Objective Coping strategies of men who were sexually abused in childhood were examined to ascertain their relationship to clinical diagnoses. Time elapsed since the abuse occurred was examined for its relationship to psychological functioning. Clinical psychopathology of this primary sample of sexually abused men was compared to a community sample of men. Methods A primary sample of 147 Australian men was recruited from agencies and self-help groups who support adults who were sexually abused in childhood. For comparative purposes a secondary data set that consisted of 1,231 men recruited randomly in an Australian community survey was utilized. Both samples were administered the 28-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ28). The primary sample was administered the 60-item coping style inventory instrument (COPE). Results Coping strategies influenced the possibility of being classified as clinical or nonclinical. The most important strategies associated with better functioning were positive reinterpretation and growth and seeking instrumental social support. Whereas strategies that were more associated with a clinical outcome were themed around internalization, acceptance and disengagement. The sample of men who were sexually abused in childhood was up to 10 times more likely to be classified as "clinical" then the sample of community men. Time elapsed since the abuse occurred did not have a moderating effect on men's psychological functioning. Conclusions Men who have been sexually abused in childhood are more likely to have clinical diagnoses but coping strategies may play an important part in this outcome. Seeking active assistance appears to be important coping strategy in reframing the experience, however, the timing of this help seeking is not critical. Practice implications The findings reinforce the importance of professionals being aware that men's psychiatric symptoms might be the sequel to past child sexual abuse. Coping strategies that focus on internalization or disengagement are potentially damaging to the men's long-term psychological functioning. Importantly there are coping strategies that appear to have a moderating effect on clinical diagnoses. Focus needs to be given to support services to male victims that provide practical strategies and allow for cognitive reframing to assist men to see their strength and positive growth arising from survival.

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Child Abuse and Neglect
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