Severe Childhood Sexual Abuse Is a Risk Factor for Incarceration in Women

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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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Catherine W

    Catherine W

    February 23rd, 2012 at 5:26 AM

    I worked in a halfway house for female federal inmates when I was right out of college and I agree that most of them that I would talk with indicated to me that they had either witnessed or been abused as children. I was taken aback because from my sheltered world I had known no one who had been a victim of abuse, yet all of these women had stories of abuse that would make you cry. I came to the resolution that it was no surprise that so many of them had lives filled with violence because that was all that they had known.

  • georgia


    February 24th, 2012 at 8:10 PM

    actually surprised to know both groups received similar levels of support after the abuse..but what it also says is that different individuals require different levels of support and that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution..even if we are to design a better and improved support system for abuse survivors,what is the guarantee that what works for one will work for another person?

    what can be done in this situation?can the experts suggest something?

  • Danny Haszard

    Danny Haszard

    February 25th, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    Please examine the Jehovah’s Witnesses who go door to door and come on our property.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses pedophiles.

    Many court documents and news events prove that Jehovah’s Witnesses require two witnesses when a child comes forward with allegations of molestation within the congregation. Such allegations have customarily been treated as sins instead of crimes and are only reported to authorities when it is required to do so by law, (which varies by state). It has also been shown that child molesters within the organization usually have not been identified to the congregation members or the public at large.
    These people engage in a door to door ministry, possibly exposing children to pedophiles.
    Although the Watchtower Bible Tract Society claims that known pedophiles are accompanied by a non-pedophile in such work, there is no law stating that such a practice must be followed.
    The Watchtower corporation has paid out millions in settlement money already.

    Danny Haszard abuse victim

  • Jasmine


    February 26th, 2012 at 4:26 AM

    There are things that happen to you in life that you have no control over and sadly childhood abuse for the most part is one of those things. And look how something like this can not oly alter your total life course but will follow you around forever! It affects how you feel about yourself and the choices in life that nyou ultimately make. I am astounded that there are adults who feel compelled to act out in this way toward a child and that further there are other adults in that child’s life who will recognoze what is going on and yet they will not step in and do anything about it.

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