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Journal Article


Harter S, Alexander PC, Neimeyer RA. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 1988; 56(1): 5-8.


(Copyright © 1988, American Psychological Association)






VioLit summary:

OBJECTIVE: The goal of this study by Harter et al. was to explore the social-cognitive differences between women who had experienced intrafamilial childhood sexual abuse and women from a non-abused control group. An investigation of how social-cognitive variables related to family structure and social adjustment was also conducted.

METHODOLOGY: A quasi-experimental design was utilized. Cross sectional data was obtained from 29 female victims of both intrafamilial and extrafamilial sexual abuse and 56 non-abused control subjects. These subjects were recruited from an overall sample of 1,066 female introductory psychology students at Memphis State University. The overall sample were surveyed between fall 1984 and fall 1985 and asked to volunteer for the study. Subjects with a history of only intrafamilial sexual abuse were not included in the study since the study focused on the role of the family context in which sexual abuse took place. The only control group criterion was absence of child sexual abuse. Age range of the subjects was 17 to 52 years (M=26.64; SD=9.35). The authors reported that the Hollingshead two factor index of socioeconomic status was used to measure subjects socioeconomic levels. (No details were provided). 31% of the subjects were married; 21% of the sample were African American. The authors noted that there were no significant differences between the experimental and control subjects for any of the above mentioned variables. Twelve of the abused subjects reported sexual abuse by a father figure which included the biological father, a stepfather, or the mother's boyfriend. Six subjects stated they had experienced oral or coital intercourse, eight reported genital fondling, 21 subjects stated that the abuse had occurred more than once, and six reported that they had been forced to participate. Some subjects reported seductive physical contact including breast fondling and french kissing. Three measuring instruments were utilized. (1) The Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale-II (FACES-II) (Olson, Russell and Sprenkle [1983]) was used to measure the degree of family members' emotional bonding, and the family's adaptation to change and developmental and situational stress in the subject's family of origin. (2) The Family Perception Grid was developed by the authors as an adaptation of Kelly's (1955) construct Repertory Grid. This instrument was used to measure the way in which the subject viewed herself, significant others, "women in general" and "men in general." Subjects were requested to rate ten figures on ten standardized interpersonal constructs taken from the incest and family literature. Thirteen point Likert scales were used to measure the figure ratings on each bipolar construct. The authors suggested the reader see G.J. Neimeyer and Neimeyer (1981) for a description of this procedure. A matrix of 100 ratings was used to obtain the following measures: (a) self-ideal discrepancy (i.e. the difference between self ratings and ideal-self ratings on the repertory grid); (b) perceived social isolation (i.e. the difference between subject's self-rating and how others have been rated on the repertory grid); (c) sex-role polarization (i.e. differences between "men in general" ratings and "women in general" ratings); and (d) social fragmentation (i.e. the degree to which the subject viewed herself as similar or different to others. This was characterized by the standard deviation for the subjects' ratings of other individuals). The authors reported acceptable internal consistency reliability for the construct and figure ratings, except for the self-ideal measure; alpha=.61. The social isolation alpha was .89, sex-role polarization alpha was .72, and social fragmentation alpha was .83. (3) The Social Adjustment Scale (SAS) was used to measure employment performance, school achievement, housewife role performance, extent of social and leisure activities, relationships among extended family members, marital or other intimate relationships and parenting strategies. The subject responses were assessed by the clinician and rated 1 (excellent adjustment) to 7 (very severe maladjustment). The authors reported very high interrater reliability at alpha=.96. The authors defined incestuous abuse as "any report of physical contact that the subject interpreted as having been sexual in intent between a subject before she was 18 years of age and a significantly older family member (more than a five year age difference)." A questionnaire providing demographic information, the FACES-II instrument and a sex history questionnaire were administered to subjects by a psychology student. Follow up interviews included administration of the repertory grid followed by the SAS. Further sexual history information was obtained in the interview. The authors hypothesized that: (1) abused subjects would perceive themselves as different from significant others (i.e. perceived social isolation), would experience a self-ideal discrepancy, and would describe a discrepancy between "men in general" and "women in general" (sex-role polarization); (2) abused subjects would describe significant others very differently (i.e. social fragmentation); (3) abused subjects' families of origin would be less cohesive and adaptable; and (4) abused subjects would report poor social adjustment. Multivariate analyses of variance were used to assess the data.

FINDINGS/DISCUSSION: The dependent variables in the MANOVA included the FACES-II instrument, self-ideal discrepancy, social isolation, sex role polarization and social fragmentation repertory grid measures, and the SAS score. Results indicated significant differences between abused and non-abused respondents F(7,77)=2.55, p=.02. Significantly less cohesive (F[1,83]=5.98, p=.02), and less adaptable, (F[1,83]=5.98, p=.02), families of origin were evident among abused subjects. Abused subjects perceived greater levels of social isolation (F[1,83]=4.62, p=.03). Poorer social adjustment was also evident among this group, (F[1,83]=4.33, p=.04). A path analysis revealed that subjects, in which families of origin were more adaptable, were better socially adjusted. Social isolation resulted in poorer social adjustment. The path analysis revealed that greater family cohesion was indirectly associated with better social adjustment through significantly reducing social isolation and increasing family adaptability. There were no significant effects for abuse on social adjustment. A stepwise regression analysis was conducted to determine whether family, cognitive, and abuse variables contributed towards social adjustment. The authors found that increased perceptions of social isolation (Beta=.36, p=.0003), decreased family of origin adaptability (Beta= -.294, p=.003) and sexual abuse by a paternal perpetrator (Beta=.212, p=.02) significantly predicted social maladjustment. The authors reported that a regression equation of F(3,81)=20.10, p<.0001, explained 42.7% of the variance in SAS scores. A regression analysis was conducted to identify predictive social isolation variables. The authors found that decreased family cohesion in family of origin (Beta= -.423, p=.0001), and a sexual abuse history which included intercourse (Beta=.201, p=<.05), predicted social isolation. The regression equation F(2,82)=13.78, p<.0001, explained 25.2% of the variance for perceived social isolation. The authors reported that their results supported hypotheses related to differences among abused and non-abused subjects for the perceived social isolation, social adjustment and family structure in the family of origin variables. Hypotheses regarding differences between abused and non-abused subjects were not supported for the perceived self-ideal discrepancy, sex role polarization and social fragmentation measures. The authors stated that study limitations included correlational data dependence, retrospective accounts of abuse history and simplified causality assumptions inherent in path analyses.

AUTHORS' RECOMMENDATIONS: The authors recommended that future studies be directed towards measuring the effects of cognitive variables on social adjustment. This, it was suggested, would provide directions in treatment.

(CSPV Abstract - Copyright © 1992-2007 by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Institute of Behavioral Science, Regents of the University of Colorado) Female Victim Incest Effects Incest Victim Child Abuse Effects Child Abuse Victim Child Sexual Abuse Effects Child Sexual Abuse Victim Child Female Child Victim Family Relations Domestic Violence Effects Domestic Violence Victim Sexual Assault Effects Sexual Assault Victim Long-Term Effects Childhood Experience Childhood Victimization College Student Young Adult Victim Characteristics Tennessee Cognitive Behavioral Psychological Victimization Effects Adult Self-Esteem Female Self-Esteem Victim Self-Esteem Victim Adjustment Emotional Adjustment Adult Adjustment Social Adjustment Adult Survivor Adult Female

Language: en


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