The past 30 years have seen a burst of research related to child sexual abuse (CSA) prevalence and the scope of its impact. Estimated prevalence rates of CSA in the United States range from 4% to 10% of men and 17% to 51% of women (Pereda, Guilera, Forns, & Gomez-Benito, 2009). Further, CSA has been repeatedly linked to increased risk for a range of medical, psychological, and behavioral problems in adulthood (e.g., Maniglio, 2009). Despite this accumulation of literature, surprisingly little progress has been made in understanding underlying processes that contribute to the increased risk of negative outcomes observed in CSA victims (Coffey, Leitenberg, Henning, Turner, & Bennett, 1996). One such important process may be the formation of problematic sexual attitudes in the wake of the CSA experience.
The Traumagenic Dynamics Model was proposed in an effort to address the need for a comprehensive theoretical framework of CSA impact (Finkelhor & Browne, 1985). The model proposes that four overarching dynamics (traumatic sexualization, betrayal, powerlessness, and stigmatization) work in concert to cultivate and maintain CSA victims' problems by altering their cognitive or emotional orientations toward the world. Within the traumagenic model, impacted domains of functioning may be understood based on their relationship to one or more of these dynamics. Although not necessarily exclusive to CSA, the dynamics combine to form a unique profile that is characteristic of many CSA victims.
Of the four dynamics, traumatic sexualization is believed to most distinguish CSA victims from victims of other forms of abuse due to the sexual nature of CSA, and, as such, traumatic sexualization is particularly important to advancing the understanding of CSA impact (Matorin & Lynn, 1998). This dynamic represents the consequence of a process by which children's sexual feelings and attitudes become distorted in response to abuse. The process leads to the manifestation of a sexuality that is developmentally inappropriate and interpersonally problematic.
The traumagenic model provides several possible routes by which traumatic sexualization occurs (Finkelhor & Browne, 1985). For example, when children are rewarded for sexual behavior with affection or gifts, they begin to identify sexual behaviors as strategies used for manipulating others. Interaction with perpetrators may also lead to misconceptions or confusion related to sexual morality and what constitutes appropriate behavior. Further, a perpetrator's focus on a specific part of anatomy may lead victims to place exaggerated meaning on that body part or associate it with negative emotions. A final important path to traumatic sexualization is the pairing of frightening memories with various forms of sexual activity.
Within the Traumagenic Dynamics Model, observable problems that have been related to CSA can be organized or conceptualized based on their relationship with one or more of the four dynamics. Indeed, there are a number of behaviors that have been theoretically linked to traumatic sexualization: In childhood, repetitive masturbation, sex play, and a desire to engage in sexual acts with other children are possible outcomes of the traumatic sexualization process (Finkelhor & Browne, 1985). Possible effects of traumatic sexualization in adulthood may include an increase in risky sexual behavior, sexual revictimization (i.e., experiencing sexual assault or rape), or perpetration of sexual aggression. Sexual dysfunction, low sexual desire, and body dissatisfaction in adulthood are also theoretically linked to traumatic sexualization. The experience of CSA often appears to lead to an enduring shift in experiences and beliefs related to several sexual domains--a shift that often persists into adulthood (Finkelhor & Browne, 1985).
Although the …