Methods: Contemporary understandings of CSA reflect a social-ecological / person-in-environment model, however, there is a lack of a cohesive life-course theoretical perspective on CSA disclosure experiences. 17 This study uses a qualitative methodology grounded in a feminist epistemology which weaves together three additional theoretical strands: narrative,18 life course, 19 and intersectionality.20 The proposed trauma-informed critical life course perspective serves to examine the interplay of traumatization, bio-psycho-social-spiritual development, cumulative (dis)advantage, and intergenerational transmission to highlight relationships between patriarchal systems, traumatic life events and interdependent lives linked, through time, and across generations. This secondary analysis consists of two different cohorts of research participants, which span variable generations: an “adult” cohort ranging in age from 19 to 69 years (M = 44.9). (N=21) and “youth” cohort ranging in age from 14 to 25 years (M = 19.7) (N=22). All participants identified as female and were drawn from samples that spanned the urban geographies of Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, Canada.
Findings: In depth interviews from two intergenerational cohorts of female victim/survivors of CSA revealed features of traumatization (narrative incoherence, hyper-vigilant and avoidant behavior) and a range of traumatic life events beyond the experience of CSA. Agency was more prevalent in the stories of younger women, who were also more apt to interpret their choice to disclose as affirming and liberating. Older women evidenced more shame, ambivalence on their choice to disclose and more negative mental and physical health outcomes both prior to and after disclosure. Younger women reported a greater sense of responsibility to future generations and more often had suggestions on ways to improve rates of disclosure within child and family serving systems.
Conclusion and Implications: Women who wait longer to disclose evidence poorer mental and physical health outcomes. Younger women, favorably impacted by the #metoo movement, have more agency and a sense of social responsibility that helps them disclose and interpret their disclosure as favorable, even when the immediate aftermath makes their lives more difficult in the short term. Child and family professional, clinicians and educators should work to promote opportunities to encourage disclosure among young people and social media awareness and prevention campaigns should continue to be developed and utilized to assist youth to disclose CSA to trusted confidants.