Mediating factors in the development of psychopathology in victims of childhood sexual abuse

  • Jennifer L. Steel
  • Greg Wilson
  • Herb Cross
  • James Whipple
Clinical and Research Articles


The effects of sexual abuse and victim-offender characteristics have been studied extensively in relation to short- and long-term psychological consequences. However, few studies have focused on mediating factors in the development of psychological sequelae associated with sexual abuse. Three hundred seventy-nine students at Washington State University were recruited from psychology courses and administered a battery of assessments. These assessments included a modified version of Groth's Sexual Victimization questionnaire, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), and the Ways of Coping Questionnaire. Results revealed that 115 subjects (30%) reported at least one level of sexual abuse before the age of 18 years. Significant differences on the main effect of abuse were found between abused and nonabused subjects on selected validity, clinical, and research scales of the MMPI. When family dysfunction was covaried, no differences were found between abused and nonabused subjects on the main effect of abuse, suggesting that family dysfunction did not account for differences between groups. In addition, a main effect of psychopathology was found between victims who reported high and those who reported lower levels of psychopathology. Differences between subjects with a history of abuse and those with no history of abuse were found on the confrontive coping, escape-avoidance, self-controlling, and distancing scales. Finally, significant differences on the main effect of abuse were found between victims who had experienced more frequent abuse and who were more familiar to the offender and victims who were less frequently abused and less familiar to the offender. Differences were found on several clinical and research scales of the MMPI and on the self-control, accepting responsibility, and escape-avoidance scales of the Ways of Coping Questionnaire. The victims who were more frequently abused and familiar with the offender had elevated scores when compared to other victims. Mediating factors, such as coping, seemed to play some role in the long-term effects of sexual abuse. Recommendations for future research in the area of other possible mediating factors and longitudinal research are suggested.

Key Words

family dysfunction Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory sexual offending sexual victimization 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer L. Steel
    • 1
  • Greg Wilson
    • 1
  • Herb Cross
    • 1
  • James Whipple
    • 1
  1. 1.Washington State UniversityPullman

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