Child sexual abuse (CSA) has been linked to a host of negative psychological outcomes in adults. Specifically, survivors are more likely to suffer anxiety, depression, substance misuse, decreased self-esteem, posttraumatic stress and behavior problems. Individuals who have experienced childhood maltreatment and neglect are more likely to find themselves in trouble with the law. Therefore, some experts theorize that CSA poses a risk factor for arrest or incarceration as well. Previous research has demonstrated that women who are incarcerated are more likely to have suffered CSA than those who are not. These same women also have higher rates of psychological problems than women with no criminal record. To determine what factors would best predict if a female survivor of CSA would be at risk for future incarceration, Kia Asberg of the Department of Psychology at Western Carolina University compared the severity of CSA and the coping strategies used in a sample of incarcerated women and women enrolled in college.
Asberg analyzed data gathered from 420 female college students and 169 incarcerated women and found that the rate of CSA was nearly double in the inmates. She also discovered that the women who were incarcerated had experienced more severe and more frequent CSA than the students and had much lower levels of psychological adjustment relating to the abuse. Surprisingly, the results revealed that imprisoned and student survivors had received equal amounts of support from people in their lives when they disclosed the abuse. However, the inmates had more initial adverse responses to their disclosure than the students. This suggests that the first reaction to disclosure, when negative, could eclipse the positive emotional support received after. The way in which the women coped was also different. The incarcerated survivors had much higher rates of substance use than the students. Taken together, these findings underscore the importance of working with CSA survivors to develop healthy coping strategies to prevent further psychological impairment. Asberg added, “Overall, these findings have implications for the development of interventions for CSA survivors, suggesting that those survivors with more severe experiences, co-occurring substance abuse, and a lack of social support will require more intensive programs.”
Asberg, K., Renk, K. (2012, February 13). Comparing Incarcerated and College Student Women With Histories of Childhood Sexual Abuse: The Roles of Abuse Severity, Support, and Substance Use. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027162
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