Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on College Student Development: A Seven-Vectors Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on College Student Development: A Seven-Vectors Perspective

Article excerpt

The application of theory in this article expanded on Chickering and Reisser's (1993) 7-vectors framework by considering the effects of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) on the normal experience of student development in higher education. The article includes an overview of the prevalence and effects of CSA and a case study of a college student survivor of CSA.

Keywords: Chickering and Reisser, childhood sexual abuse, seven vectors of college student development


Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a problem that affects people of all genders, sexual orientations, races/ethnicities, family constructions, and economic statuses (Bryant-Jefferies, 2003; Draucker et al., 2011; Hunter, 2010; Wellman, 1993). In college counseling centers, CSA can be an underlying factor in the depression, anxiety, and relational concerns often reported by students. Many counselor education programs offer courses exploring problems associated with CSA or related issues; however, master's degree-level counselors are not universally trained to treat CSA as a pervasive problem on par with addiction, mood disorders, or anxiety disorders. College counselors must therefore learn to treat CSA through direct contact with survivors, continuing education, and other professional development opportunities.

Recognizing common issues associated with CSA is important for college counselors because, for many students, the counseling center is uniquely accessible. CSA often goes untreated because survivors are reluctant to disclose abuse to people who may judge, disbelieve, dismiss, or minimize their story (Draucker & Martsolf, 2008). Initial steps such as asking a friend for help to find a counselor or borrowing a parent's car for transportation to a session can be barriers to treatment. College counseling centers are accessible because they are often close to students' campus dwelling--a dwelling away from families, friends, abusers, and other stigmatizing forces or logistical hurdles that exist at home--so students can walk to sessions conveniently scheduled between classes. Many colleges and universities offer counseling services to the student body at a more affordable cost than what would be found in the community. Some institutions even include the cost of counseling services in a mandatory student health service fee so that students seeking treatment from the counseling center are spared the out-of-pocket expense.

The application of theory in this article originated from the aforementioned assumptions that CSA is a universal problem and college counseling centers play a role in treating it. My goal was to identify a foundation for conceptualizing college students with a history of CSA. Although several researchers, clinicians, and higher education personnel have contributed to the understanding of the college experience and problems associated with CSA, there is not a developmental model or treatment approach devoted to college students--and only to college students--who have experienced CSA. There is, however, an established developmental framework for understanding the "normal" college experience. Chickering and Reisser's (1993) seven-vectors theory of student development in higher education offered a baseline for exploring the challenges faced by survivors of CSA, many of whom feel anything but normal.

According to Chickering and Reisser (1993), traditional-age college students (roughly ages 18 to 22 years) navigate a transition that challenges developmental skills associated with interpersonal relationships, autonomy, identity, emotional management, values, and purpose. Discussions of sexuality were limited within Chickering and Reisser's text, and CSA was almost nonexistent. In this article, I extend the work of Chickering and Reisser to consider the impact of CSA on college student development. Specifically, the application of theory in this article is intended to be a tool for counselors to use in conceptualization and treatment planning, as well as a guide for clients lost in the chaos of confusion and self-doubt that often follows abuse. …

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