Child Sexual Abuse and the Superfluous Association with Negative Parenting Outcomes: The Role of Symptoms as Predictors

By Pazdera, Andrea L.; McWey, Lenore M. et al. | Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Child Sexual Abuse and the Superfluous Association with Negative Parenting Outcomes: The Role of Symptoms as Predictors


Pazdera, Andrea L., McWey, Lenore M., Mullis, Ann, Carbonell, Joyce, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy


The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between child sexual abuse and high-risk maternal parenting indicators and the extent to which maternal depression and self-perceived parenting competence influence that relationship. Using path analysis, results indicate maternal depression and parenting sense of competence mediate the relationship between child sexual abuse and outcome variables. Post hoc analyses indicated that child sexual abuse was significantly associated with decreased parenting sense of competence, controlling for depression. These results highlight that the pathways for increased risk in parenting outcomes for child sexual abuse survivors may be indirect and associated with beliefs of their own sense of competence and depression as opposed to a direct association with sexual abuse itself. Implications are discussed.

Extant research indicates that maternal survivors of child sexual abuse are at increased risk of negative parenting outcomes such as decreased parenting satisfaction and sensitivity, increased anxiety about intimate parenting, increased parent-child role reversal, increased use of physical discipline, and increased child abuse potential (Banyard, 1997; Briere, 1992; DiLillo, Tremblay, & Peterson, 2000; Douglas, 2000; Libby, Orton, Beals, Buchwald, & Manson, 2008; Noll, 2008). However, there is debate about whether the relationship between child sexual abuse (CSA) and parenting outcomes is direct or indirect.

This study contributes to the literature by examining the relationship between CSA and high-risk maternal parenting indicators (parenting stress and maltreatment behaviors) and the extent to which maternal depression and self-perceived parenting competence influence that relationship and identifies the processes through which an experience of child sexual abuse might later lead to parenting difficulty. Identifying the conditions through which maternal survivors of child sexual abuse are at risk of later maltreating their own children is essential for prevention and intervention with survivors of child sexual abuse (Noll, 2008). The theory of symbolic interactionism guided this study.

Child sexual abuse is a serious public health issue, impacting millions of children each year around the world (World Health Organization, 2008). A number of researchers have investigated the immediate and long-term emotional and behavioral impacts of CSA. Noted survivor response patterns to sexual abuse include the following: difficulties in interpersonal relationships, dissociation, marital conflicts, social anxiety, suicidal ideation, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and eating disorders (Hetzel-Riggin, Brausch, & Montgomery, 2007; Nelson et al., 2002).

Over the past two decades, researchers have progressively focused on the relationship between CSA on later parenting outcomes. Childhood sexual abuse has been found to impact later parenting outcomes such as increased use of physical discipline and permissive parenting (Banyard, 1997; Rustió, 2001). One study found that women who had been sexually abused reported less emotional control while interacting with their children (Cole, Woolger, Power, & Smith, 1992). Results from several studies indicate that a maternal history of CSA predicts increased child abuse potential (Caliso & Milner, 1992; Craig & Sprang, 2007; DiLillo et al., 2000; Whissell, Lewko, Carriere, & Radford, 1990).

Yet, the predisposition of hypotheses and research questions to assume a deficiency in mothers with histories of sexual abuse ignores the potential ways in which many mothers with histories of childhood sexual abuse successfully parent their children (Breckenridge, 2006). Minimal research exists examining the influence of mother's beliefs about themselves and their parenting skills in the link between CSA and negative parenting outcomes. A few recent studies have shown that the association between history of child sexual abuse and the abuse of a child is not a direct path.

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