Date of Award:

1995

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

Mark S. Innocenti

Co-Advisor/Chair:

Elwin Nielsen

Abstract

Childhood sexual abuse is a prevalent problem that impacts adult women and the mental health professionals who treat them. Decades of studies have been conducted examining the impact of childhood sexual abuse in order to be better able to treat clients with this history. Yet, few clear guidelines have resulted from these activities.

In order to gain a clearer picture of this research, a meta-analysis was conducted on 41 published studies to describe the nature of the problem, the subjects involved in these studies, the measures used to determine effect, and the impact of eight variables that potentially mediate the effect of childhood sexual abuse. The results of this meta-analysis show that authors use different definitions, sample from different populations, report different demographic data, and use different measures of outcome. Typical studies use definitions based on the relationship of the victim to the perpetrator and difference between victim and perpetrator in age. While many reviewers discuss the potential impact and importance of several demographic variables, including age, educational level, and marital status, few studies in this meta-analysis included this information.

Subjects are typically mental health clients or students; however, some studies did a:tempt to use a random sample from the general population. Most studies used a life-history interview or questionnaire in order to obtain demographic data and information about the nature of the sexual abuse. Most studies also utilized an objective measure of outcome, typically a measure of psychopathology; however, few studies used the same tool.

It was concluded that there is evidence to indicate a negative effect of sexual abuse in women. However, this evidence is not overwhelming. Also, it was concluded that in order to increase the level of understanding in this area, it is imperative to begin to standardize a protocol for this research. A standardized protocol would include a clearly stated definition of childhood sexual abuse, clearly stated demographic information, and clearly reported use of outcome measures and the outcomes. Standardization would enable researchers to replicate studies and compare results, processes which are invaluable to increase scientific understanding of the long-term effects of sexual abuse in adult women.

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