Title: Long-term psychological correlates of childhood sexual abuse in two samples of college men
Author(s): Mary Ellen Fromuth and Barry R. Burkhart
Affiliation: Department of Psychology, Auburn University
Citation: Fromuth, M.E. & Burkhart, B.R., “Long-term psychological correlates of childhood sexual abuse in two samples of college men,” Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol. 13, 533-542, 1989.
This study sought to determine whether child sexual abuse (CSA) has long-term effects on boys that are similar to those found in studies of girls. One clinical study found that male and female CSA victims had similar measures of psychological adjustment, and one non-clinical study found a significant perception among males that CSA had an impact on their lives. However, three studies of male college students contradicted these findings.
The current study attempted to overcome shortcomings of previous research by using a reliable definition of CSA and established and meaningful outcome measures. The study surveyed college men from two distinct geographic regions using standardized measures to asses long-term correlates, and examined their current sexual behavior and sexual self-esteem.
One sample consisted of 253 men from a Midwestern university, and the other consisted of 329 men from a southeastern university. CSA was defined in a way similar to that used in earlier research: It involved both a behavioral component (which included exhibitionism, sexual invitation, and sexual contact) and an age component (which specified an absolute age of the abuser and an age difference criteria).
Subjects were interviewed via questionnaire. The questionnaire asked about current sexual behavior, sexual adjustment, and psychological adjustment using a seven-point scale and descriptive phrases. The Hopkins symptom checklist, Beck depression inventory, a locus of control scale, Rosenberg’s self-esteem scale, and Finkelhor’s sexual self-esteem scale were used to measure outcomes. Three other tools were used to assess family background, since previous studies had found this factor to be a confounding variable.
Incidence of CSA was 15% among the Midwestern sample and 13% in the southeastern sample. The child knew the perpetrator in 83% of the cases in the Midwestern sample and in 96% of the cases in the southeastern sample. Close to half of the contacts were one-time experiences in both samples.
Seventy-eight percent of the cases in the mid-western sample involved female perpetrators, and 72% did so in the southeastern sample. Combining the two samples, 12% of the respondents reported reactions of fear or shock, 28% reported surprise, and 60% reported interest or pleasure.
Evaluation of the psychological data for the Midwestern sample suggested that men who were sexually abused were slightly less well adjusted than the non-abused men. However, no relationship was found between the Beck depression inventory, the self-esteem scale, the locus of control scale, or the self-rating of adjustment and history of childhood sexual abuse.
In the southeastern sample there were no significant correlations between CSA history and adjustment difficulties. This could have been due to the very narrow range of adjustment scores in this sample.
The authors examined the possibility that the results for the Midwestern sample were due to less parental support as a confounding variable, but found no evidence to support it. They also concluded that a history of CSA was not related to:
A history of CSA was related to:
Although correlations were small, they were all in the direction of the sexually abused being slightly less well-adjusted than the non-abused men. Family relationships could not explain these results, so the findings were consistent with studies of college females.
Cultural variation may have been part of the reason for the difference in results in the two samples. However, the effects obtained in the Midwestern sample were in quite small. It appeared that the majority of the sexually abused men in both samples did not experience demonstrable serious long-term effects.
It was significant that the perpetrators were predominantly female, and that the experiences were predominantly not perceived negatively, making this study different from clinical studies. There was little relationship in either sample between a history of childhood sexual abuse and later sexual adjustment and behavior. These results, which differed from those of previous studies, might have been related to the type of abuse that the subjects experienced, since the perpetrators were predominantly female.
The use of college samples might limit the generalizability of these findings. In addition, the authors speculated that the measuring tools they used, even though standard, may not have been sensitive enough to measure more subtle potential effects of CSA. Males and females might experience quite different effects, necessitating different measuring tools.
Finally, the results of this study were based on the ability of the subjects to accurately remember past events, which may not have been reliable since cultural expectations can reshape memory. The authors conclude by advising researchers to use multiple samples in future studies, and, in order to avoid cultural and social biases, not to use subjects’ self-definitions of CSA .