The role of family environment and social context in the long-term effects of childhood abuse
Richard, Patricia Jean
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Child abuse is an increasingly recognized social concern with a concurrent increase in the quantity and quality of research efforts in the area (Gelles & Straus, 1987; Emery, 1989). Although the question of a common vs. differential outcome pattern between sexual, physical, and psychological abuse has not been resolved (Mullen, Martin, Anderson, Romans, & Herbison, 1996), there is general agreement that childhood abuse is associated with a wide range of negative outcomes in adulthood. The current focus of research is on the identification of various moderator and mediator variables and their role in models that account for varying outcomes in abuse survivors. This study evaluated the similarities and differences between sexually, physically, and psychologically abused groups on social context, family environment, and symptom outcome as well as determined the relative contributions of abuse specific characteristics, social context of abuse, and family environment to variance in symptom outcome. The Social Sequelae of Abuse (Gameros & Harter, 1996) scale, which has been developed to assess the social context of abuse, was cross-validated and internal consistency, test-retest reliability, and predictive validity were evaluated. It was found that the SSA has adequate internal reliability, test-retest reliability, and construct validity. Although the SSA did not make a unique contribution to the prediction of symptom outcome, it did distinguish between groups of individuals with a history of abuse on the social constructs it measures. All abuse groups were found to differ from the no abuse group on the close, responsive, and democratic factor of family functioning and on trauma symptom outcome. The sexual abuse group was the only group found to differ from the no abuse group on social adjustment. Results point to a common effects view of abuse in this population of individuals who experience less severe consequences; however, they also support the possibility that the presence of psychological abuse is a strong indicator of symptom outcome. Also highlighted were the apparent reluctance on the part of some physical and sexual abuse survivors to disclose their abuse experiences and the identification of more severe consequences of abuse in individuals who responded consistently to inquiry regarding their abuse.