A variety of factors influence a child’s recovery from a child sexual abuse (CSA) event including the non-offending parent’s role in the healing process of their child. The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of how non-offending parents recuperate from a CSA occurrence. By better understanding non-offending parents’ perspectives related to the healing process, health professionals can provide effective supports, programs, and services. We recruited and conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 16 non-offending parents to explore their risk factors, protective factors, stressors, coping strategies, and perceptions of healing following their child’s sexual abuse event. We also invited parents to contribute specific ideas to improve programs and services offered to families of sexual abuse served by a child advocacy center located in an urban pediatric hospital. Our findings included five themes: (1) a variety of emotions are present; (2) family context influences recovery; (3) coping is different for everyone; (4) navigating the justice system is frustrating; and (5) healing is a process. The results of our study revealed that the non-offending parents that were managing their child’s sexual abuse event more productively were further along in the healing process (as compared with their counterparts) and had successfully processed their emotions, described less chaos in their family unit, employed positive coping strategies, and had found a way to move forward and accept a “new normal”. The findings of our study can be used to promote recovery and provide better services to non-offending parents following a CSA event.
16 in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with non-offending parents of a child sexual abuse occurrence to explore parents’ stressors, coping strategies, and perceptions of healing following their child’s sexual abuse (CSA) event
Non-offending parents who reported successfully managing their child’s sexual abuse event appeared to be more advanced in the healing process
Study findings can be used to develop and deliver more effective programs and services to foster recovery of non-offending parents which can in turn facilitate more positive outcomes for the child following a CSA event
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
The vignette above was written by the authors based on a combination of detailed descriptions from our interview participants depicting what parents grappled with once they learned of their child’s sexual abuse event. The purpose of this writing is to bring the reader closer to the personal side of a traumatic event such as this and to facilitate a better understanding of the non-offending parents’ experiences.
Baker, L. J. (2001). Multigenerational sexual abuse: a cognitive developmental approach to understanding mothers in treatment. Journal of Adult Development, 8(1), 51–59. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1026449805197.
Barnett, D., Manly, J. T., & Cicchetti, D. (1993). Defining child maltreatment: the interface between policy and research. In D. Cicchetti, & S. L. Toth (Eds.), Child abuse, child development, and social policy. Ablex.
Beder, J. (2005). Loss of the assumptive world—how we deal with death and loss. OMEGA - Journal of Death and Dying, 50(4), 255–265. https://doi.org/10.2190/GXH6-8VY6-BQ0R-GC04.
Boeije, H. (2002). A purposeful approach to the constant comparative method in the analysis of qualitative interviews. Quality & Quantity, 36(4), 391–409. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1020909529486.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American Psychologist, 32(7), 513–531. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.32.7.513.
Buzzanell, P. M. (2010). Resilience: Talking, resisting, and imagining new normalcies into being. Journal of Communication, 60(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01469.x.
Cicchetti, D., & Toth, S. L. (2005). Child maltreatment. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 409–438. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144029.
Collin-Vézina, D., Daigneault, I., & Hébert, M. (2013). Lessons learned from child sexual abuse research: prevalence, outcomes, and preventive strategies. Child & Adolescent Psychiatry & Mental Health, 7(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1186/1753-2000-7-22.
DeJonckheere, M., & Vaughn, L. M. (2019). Semi structured interviewing in primary care research: a balance of relationship and rigour. Family Medicine and Community Health, 7(2), e000057 https://doi.org/10.1136/fmch2018-000057.
Domhardt, M., Münzer, A., Fegert, J. M., & Goldbeck, L. (2015). Resilience in survivors of child sexual abuse: a systematic review of the literature. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 16(4), 476–493. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838014557288.
Elliott, A. N., & Carnes, ConnieN. (2001). Reactions of non-offending parents to the sexual abuse of their child: a review of the literature. Child Maltreatment, 6(4), 314–331. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077559501006004005.
Everson, M. D., Hunter, W. M., Runyon, D. K., Edelsohn, G. A., & Coulter, M. L. (1989). Maternal support following disclosure of incest. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 59, 197–207. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-0025.1989.tb01651.x.
Fuller, G. (2016). Non-offending parents as secondary victims of child sexual assault. Trends & Issues in Crime & Criminal Justice, (500), 1–7.
Gale, N. K., Heath, G., Cameron, E., Rashid, S., & Redwood, S. (2013). Using the framework method for the analysis of qualitative data in multi-disciplinary health research. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 13(1), 117. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2288-13-117.
Gregory, C., 2020. The five stages of grief: an examination of the Kubler-Ross model. https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.grief.html.
Haiyasoso, M., & Moyer, M. (2018). Counseling sexual abuse survivors and caregivers. Journal of Professional Counseling: Practice, Theory, and Research, 41(2), 39–52. https://doi.org/10.1080/15566382.2014.12033937.
Hiebert-Murphy, D. (1998). Emotional distress among mothers whose children have been sexually abused: the role of a history of child sexual abuse, social support, and coping. Child Abuse & Neglect, 22(5), 423–435. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0145-2134(98)00006-4.
Holt, T., Cohen, J., Mannarino, A., & Jensen, T. K. (2014). Parental emotional response to children’s traumas. journal of aggression. Maltreatment & Trauma, 23(10), 1057–1071. https://doi.org/10.1080/10926771.2014.953717.
Jaffee, S. R. (2017). Child maltreatment and risk for psychopathology in childhood and adulthood. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 13(1), 525–551. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032816-045005.
Kellogg, N. D. (2002). Child sexual abuse: a marker or magnifying glass for family dysfunction? The Social Science Journal, 39(4), 569–582. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0362-3319(02)00230-6.
Kim, K., Noll, J. G., Putnam, F. W., & Trickett, P. K. (2007). Psychosocial characteristics of nonoffending mothers of sexually abused girls: findings from a prospective, multigenerational study. Child Maltreatment, 12(4), 338–351. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077559507305997.
Kouyoumdjian, H., Perry, A. R., & Hansen, D. J. (2009). Nonoffending parent expectations of sexually abused children: predictive factors and influence on children’s recovery. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 18(1), 40–60. https://doi.org/10.1080/10538710802584627.
Malloy, L. C., & Lyon, T. D. (2006). Caregiver support and child sexual abuse: why does it matter? Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 15(4), 97–103. https://doi.org/10.1300/J070v15n04_06.
Manion, I. G., McIntyre, J., Firestone, P., Ligezinska, M., Ensom, R., & Wells, G. (1996). Secondary traumatization in parents following the disclosure of extrafamilial child sexual abuse: Initial effect. Child Abuse & Neglect, 20(11), 1095–1109.
Minkler, M., & Wallerstein, N. (Eds.) (2008). Community-based participatory research for health: from process to outcomes (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.
Olafson, E. (2011). Child sexual abuse: demography, impact, and interventions. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 4(1), 8–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/19361521.2011.545811.
Omenn, G. S., Fielding, J. E., & Lave, L. B. (1994). Child abuse. Annual Review of Psychology, 15, 367–379.
Polit, D. F., & Beck, C. T. (2010). Generalization in quantitative and qualitative research: myths and strategies. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 47(11), 1451–1458. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2010.06.004.
Pope, C., Ziebland, S. & Mays, N. (2000). Qualitative research in health care: analysing qualitative data. BMJ: British Medical Journal, (7227), 114.
Runyon, M. K., Spandorfer, E. D., & Schroeder, C. M. (2014). Cognitions and distress in caregivers after their child’s sexual abuse disclosure. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 23(2), 146–159. https://doi.org/10.1080/10538712.2014.869291.
Sickel, A. E., Noll, J. G., Moore, P. J., Putnam, F. W., & Trickett, P. K. (2002). The long-term physical health and healthcare utilization of women who were sexually abused as children. Journal of Health Psychology, 7(5), 583–597. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105302007005677.
Springer, C. I., Colorado, G., & Misurell, J. R. (2015). Interventions and perceptions of adult survivors and nonoffending caregivers: structured therapeutic games for nonoffending caregivers of children who have experienced sexual abuse. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 24(4), 412–428. https://doi.org/10.1080/10538712.2015.1022295.
Strauss A. & Corbin J. (1967). Discovery of grounded theory. Aldine.
Strauss A., and Corbin J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Sage Publications, Inc.
Tavkar, P., & Hansen, D. J. (2011). Interventions for families victimized by child sexual abuse: clinical issues and approaches for child advocacy center-based services. Aggression & Violent Behavior, 16(3), 188–199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2011.02.005.
U.S. department of health & human services, administration for children and families, administration on children, youth and families, children’s bureau. (2020). Child Maltreatment 2018. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/child-maltreatment-2018.
Vink, P., Imada, A., & Zink, K. (2008). Defining stakeholder involvement in participatory design processes. Applied Ergonomics, 39, 519–526. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apergo.2008.02.009.
Williams, J., & Nelson-Gardell, D. (2012). Predicting resilience in sexually abused adolescents. Child Abuse & Neglect, 36(1), 53–63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2011.07.004.
Wolfteich, P. M., & Cline, M. L. (2013). Social service professionals’ perceptions of nonoffending caregivers in child sexual abuse cases. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 22(4), 429–443. https://doi.org/10.1080/10538712.2013.781090.
World Health Organization. (2020, June 8). Child Maltreatment. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/child-maltreatment.
Yancey, C. T., & Hansen, D. J. (2010). Relationship of personal, familial, and abuse-specific factors with outcome following childhood sexual abuse. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(6), 410–421. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2010.07.003.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare no competing interests.
Consent to Participate
Verbal informed consent was obtained prior to conducting the interviews.
Because data were collected for the improvement of services offered by the child advocacy center and therefore not meant to be generalizable, our Institutional Review Board determined the project exempt. However, researchers adhered to all ethical standards associated with interview research involving human subjects.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Appendix A: Interview protocol
Appendix A: Interview protocol
|Interview prompt||Response options|
|Tell me a little about yourself and your family (e.g., Tell me about your kids and who lives at home. What do you all like to do as a family?)||Open-ended|
|Tell me how you ended up at the (child advocacy center).||Open-ended|
|What feelings/thoughts have you had most days since?||Open-ended|
|What’s worked AND What hasn’t worked in managing the above emotions?||Open-ended|
|What specifically was helpful at (the child advocacy center) for you or for your child?||Open-ended|
|Did your child have a medical evaluation at (the child advocacy center)? Was that helpful/ would it have been helpful?||Open-ended|
|Looking back on this event, is there anything that you wish would have happened differently?||Open-ended|
|Where would you say you and your child/family are in the healing process from this event?||1—not healed at all to 5—completed healed|
|In general, how stressful is life for you currently? On a scale of 1 to 5 how stressful would you say your home/family life is? What contributes to that feeling?||1—not stressful at all/very calm to|
|The biggest stressors for my family are:||Prompts: food insecurity, drug/ alcohol abuse, stable housing, domestic violence, job loss/ employment, grief/ loss, mental illness, child abuse/neglect, community violence, financial insecurity, meeting basic needs, parenting in general, other.|
|In general, how have you coped with or managed stressful situations in the past? How are you coping now with (amount of stress referenced above)?||Open-ended|
|What strategies or plans do you have in mind to rebuild things moving forward?||Open-ended|
|What programs or services would you like to see (the child advocacy center) offer for parents?||Open-ended|
|Anything else that I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share with me/relates to what we’ve been discussing….||Open-ended|
About this article
Cite this article
Vilvens, H.L., Jones, D.E. & Vaughn, L.M. Exploring the Recovery of Non-offending Parents after a Child’s Sexual Abuse Event. J Child Fam Stud 30, 2690–2704 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-021-02082-3
- Child sexual abuse
- Non-offending caregivers
- Coping strategies