Resilience to Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms in Child Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Just as adults may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after being exposed to death, serious injury, or sexual violence, so too may children. Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is one traumatic event that has been linked to the development of post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) in children. While the literature to date has drawn strong connections between CSA and subsequent psychopathology (including PTSD diagnoses), and explored factors contributing to resilience to psychopathology development, comparatively little research has been conducted on factors that increase child CSA survivors’ resilience to post-traumatic stress symptom development. Furthermore, much of the research to date has explored long-term effects of CSA on survivors; those that focused on short-term effects often relied on the information recall ability of adults reflecting on their CSA experience years prior. This research method is limited insofar as adult memories of childhood experiences tend to diminish in clarity over time, and this can lend itself to inaccurate self-report data. The present study sought to build upon the current research on resilience to psychopathology following CSA. This study was unique in its ability to capture the experiences of CSA survivors in real time during childhood, when memories of the traumatic event and subsequent psychopathology are most salient. Information was provided by both the identified victim and non-offending caregiver, whereas much past CSA research has relied on caregiver report of the identified victim’s experience. A review of the existing literature on CSA-related PTSS development is provided. The present cross sectional study utilized data from clients of Florida Institute of Technology’s Family Learning Program (FLP), a sexual abuse treatment program utilizing evidence-based interventions, including Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), for child and adolescent sexual abuse survivors, their siblings, and their non-offending caregivers. The primary goal of this research was to examine characteristics that may distinguish children who report a higher number of PTSS symptoms (suggestive of less resilience) and those who report a lower number of PTSS symptoms (suggestive of more resilience). A total of 27 children, between the ages of 8-17 years, were enrolled in the study. The mean age of CSA survivors was 13.15 years (SD=2.52; range= 9-17 years); 66.7% (n=18) of the sample identified as female, and 33.3% (n=9) identified as male. In this sample, 44.4% (n-12) of children were identified as PTSS Resilient (scores on the CRIES<30) and 55.6% (n=15) were PTSS Non-Resilient (scores on the CRIES >30). Children’s resilience to PTSS following CSA was significantly related to parents’ marital status (i.e. married) and perceived caregiver belief following CSA disclosure. These results can be used to inform caregivers of modifiable variables that can enhance their child’s quality of life following the trauma of CSA. Identifying factors that protect against the development of pathological symptoms following CSA has implications for enhancing caregivers’ and mental health practitioners’ abilities to increase children’s resilience, fortifying them against trauma symptoms before they may begin to negatively impact their lives long-term.