The purpose of this study was to describe behavioural and emotional symptoms and to examine the effect of abuse-related factors, family responses to disclosure, and child self-blame on these symptoms in children presenting for medical evaluations after disclosure of sexual abuse. A retrospective review was conducted of 501 children ages 8-17. Trauma symptoms were determined by two sets of qualitative measures. Abstracted data included gender, ethnicity, and age; severity of abuse and abuser relationship to child; child responses regarding difficulty with sleep, school, appetite/weight, sadness, or self-harm, parent belief in abuse disclosure, and abuse-specific self-blame; responses to the Trauma Symptom Checklist in Children-Alternate; and the parent's degree of belief in the child's sexual abuse disclosure. Overall, 83% of the children had at least one trauma symptom; 60% had difficulty sleeping and one-third had thoughts of self-harm. Child age and abuse severity were associated with 3 of 12 trauma symptoms, and abuse-specific self-blame was associated with 10 trauma symptoms, after controlling for other variables. The children of parents who did not completely believe the initial disclosure of abuse were twice as likely to endorse self-blame as children of parents who completely believed the initial disclosure. Screening for behavioural and emotional problems during the medical assessment of suspected sexual abuse should include assessment of self-blame and family responses to the child's disclosures. In addition, parents should be informed of the importance of believing their child during the initial disclosure of abuse and of the impact this has on the child's emotional response to the abuse.
- Sexual abuse
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health