Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Social Work

First Advisor's Name

Barbara Thomlison

First Advisor's Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Eric Wagner

Second Advisor's Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Jonathan Tubman

Third Advisor's Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Mark Macgowan

Fourth Advisor's Title

Committee Member

Keywords

child development, child maltreatment, socioemotional development, sexual victimization, sexual abuse

Date of Defense

12-13-2007

Abstract

This study investigated the nature and impact of the sexual abuse of children ages birth through 6 years. The purpose was to enhance knowledge about this understudied population through examination of: (1) characteristics of the abuse; (2) socioemotional developmental outcomes of young victims; and (3) potential moderating effects of family dynamics. An ecological-developmental theoretical framework was applied. Secondary data analysis was conducted using data collected from the consortium Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN). A sample of 250 children was drawn from LONGSCAN data, including children who were sexually abused (n=125) and their nonabused counterparts (n=125), matched on demographic variables.

Results revealed that young victims of sexual abuse were disproportionately female (91 girls; 73%). The sexual abuse committed against these youngsters was severe in nature, with 111 children (89%) experiencing contact offenses ranging from fondling to forcible rape. Sixty-two percent of child victims demonstrated borderline, clinical, or less than adequate functioning on normative, expected socioemotional outcomes. Child victims reported low degrees of perceived competence and satisfaction in the social environment. When compared with their nonabused counterparts, child victims demonstrated significantly poorer socioemotional functioning, as evidenced by aggressive behaviors, attention and thought problems. Sexually abused youngsters also reported lower self-perceptions of cognitive and physical competence and maternal acceptance. Family dynamic factors did not significantly moderate the relationships between abuse and socioemotional outcomes, with one exception. The caregivers’ degree of empathy for their children had a significant moderating effect on the children’s social problems.

This study contributes to an otherwise scant body of literature on the sexual abuse of preschoolers. Findings provide implications for social work practice, especially in the development of assessment and prevention strategies.

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