The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Men Report Growth After Their Childhood Sexual Abuse

Friday, January 17, 2014: 10:00 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Scott D. Easton, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Alison M. Rhodes, MSW, EdM, PhD Candidate, Boston College, Cambridge, MA
Carol Coohey, PhD, Professor, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
M. V. Moorthy, PhD, Research Scientist/Biostatistician, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA
Background and purpose: Approximately 15% of men report being sexually abused during childhood.  The negative effect of child sexual abuse (CSA) on men’s physical, psychological, and social well-being has received increasing attention over the last decade.  The extent to which these men experience some positive changes (e.g., greater personal strength, improved understanding of their relationship with others) in the aftermath of the abuse, however, has not been well documented.  To understand how we can facilitate post-traumatic growth among survivors, we tested whether men’s cognitive processing of their sexual abuse and social support following disclosure of the sexual abuse were related to posttraumatic growth.  Recognizing the complexities of the posttraumatic growth process (including the possibility of gender specific influences), we also introduced three factors that have not been previously tested among survivors of sexual abuse: masculine norms, experiencing a turning point, and the time since the abuse occurred.  To understand why these factors may affect posttraumatic growth, directly and indirectly, we drew on life course and social cognitive processing theories.

Methods: We recruited participants through three national survivor organizations: the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests, MaleSurvivor, and  The sample consisted of 487 men, ranging in age from 19 to 84 years, who were sexually abused as children.  Most participants were Caucasian and cohabitating with a spouse/partner.  The participants completed an anonymous, Internet-based survey.  We used standardized measures for growth and masculine norms, and developed and tested new measures for concepts such as social support following disclosure.  Direct and indirect effects were tested using path analysis and bootstrapping procedures.  The goodness of fit of the final model was excellent (χ2 (3, N = 472) = 2.97, p = 0.397, CFI = 1.00, NFI = .99, RMSEA = 0.00). 

Results: Although the direct path from time since the abuse to posttraumatic growth was not significant, the direct paths from the other four variables (cognitive processing, social support, masculine norms, and turning point) to growth were significant and in the expected directions.  Furthermore, most of the hypothesized indirect pathways were also significant; the three exogenous variables (masculine norms, time since abuse, and turning point) were related to growth through cognitive processing and social support.  Masculine norms, for example, was negatively related to cognitive processing.  Time since the abuse was positively related to cognitive processing and negatively related to social support.  Turning point was positively related to both of the endogenous variables. 

Conclusion and Implications: Based on our findings, mental health professionals working with male survivors should (a) assist clients in cognitively processing their sexual abuse experience, (b) assess and discuss masculine norms, and, if necessary, help men deconstruct rigid or extreme views of masculinity, and (c) explore how people responded to previous disclosures of CSA and, if negative, help men understand how those responses may have negatively affected their growth.