Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Resilience to Child Sexual Abuse in Male College Students

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Resilience to Child Sexual Abuse in Male College Students

Article excerpt

Little is known about men's experiences in the aftermath of child sexual abuse (CSA). Consistent themes from qualitative studies were operationalized and tested for their impact on resilience. For the sample of college-enrolled men (11 = 55), the themes of mattering and of traditional male attitudes were not related to resilience, but the theme of gender self-acceptance significantly predicted 23% of the variance in resilience scores. Importantly, the men's perceptions of the CSA events they experienced, whether they described these events as abusive or consensual, were not related to the men's resilience scores. The results indicated that effective counseling approaches to support men's recovery processes differ from those supporting women's recovery. These results suggest that mental health counselors should focus on encouraging male survivors' gender self-acceptance, exploring what it means to be a man in modern society, and examining points of connection with and disconnection from that cultural portrayal.

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Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a problem that has been well documented for decades (e.g., Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner, & Hamby, 2005; Freud, 1896; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhardt, 1953), yet most research has been sharply gender discrepant. Although current prevalence rate estimates of CSA are 1 in 3 in women (Loeb et al., 2002) and 1 in 6 in men (Hopper, 2010), the vast majority of CSA research over the last century has been focused on women rather than men (see reviews in Browne & Finkelhor, 1986; Garnefski & Arends, 1998; Graves, 2012; Kendall-Tackett, Williams, & Finkelhor, 1993; Loeb et al., 2002). Researchers tend to cite men's reluctance to report or disclose their abuse experiences as the primary reason for their relative absence from the literature (G. R. Holmes & Slap, 1998; Hunter, 2009; Watkins & Bentovim, 1992), hypothesizing gender-specific reasons for men's disinclination to report their abuse, including the fear of being labeled as gay (Finkelhor, 1984; Little & Hamby, 1999); the stigma of being perceived as a weak or vulnerable man, resulting in gender-based shame (King, Coxell, & Mezey, 2000; Noll, Trickett, & Putnam, 2003); and the failure to identify their experience as sexually abusive in the first place (Condy, Templar, Brown, & Veaco, 1987; Fromuth & Burkhart, 1987; see also reviews in Dhaliwal, Gauzas, Antonowicz, & Ross, 1996; G. R. Holmes, Offen, & Waller, 1997; G. R. Holmes & Slap, 1998; Hopper, 2010; Romano & DeLuca, 2001; Watkins & Bentovim, 1992).

Nevertheless, researchers need to find ways to access this population so that the processes leading to resilience in men with abuse histories can be utilized by mental health counselors, especially since the resilience-development process appears to vary a good deal by gender (Jaffee, Caspi, Moffitt, Polo-Tomas, & Taylor, 2007). For example, Little and Hamby (1999) found that engaging in therapy, talking about their abuse with others, studying or journaling about their CSA experiences, and renegotiating family-of-origin relationships were keys to women's recovery processes, but not to men's. Likewise, Banyard and Cantor (2004) found that resilient female trauma survivors had greater peer attachment and social support satisfaction, while resilient male survivors reported greater paternal attachment. In light of these findings, some researchers have examined the resilience processes of apparently resilient men with CSA histories (e.g., Andersen, 2008b; Durham, 2003; Fater & Mulaney, 2000; Gilgun & Reiser, 1990; Hunter, 2009; Kia-Keating, Sorsoli, & Grossman, 2010; Teram, Stalker, Hovey, Schachter, & Lasiuk, 2006). Four consistent qualitative themes have emerged: (a) meaning-making from the abuse experience; (b) finding and utilizing safe relationships within which trust, openness, and dependence can be reexperienced; (c) reaching out to others in a desire to assist them with their own coping with and healing from CSA; and (d) renegotiating notions of masculinity that both allow for and embrace experiences discordant with traditional male norms--and then experiencing self-acceptance within those renegotiated notions. …

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