The Legacy of Childhood Sexual Abuse and Family Adversity

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Abstract

Purpose

To describe the process by which childhood adversity influences the life course of survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Design

A community-based, qualitative, grounded-theory design.

Methods

In this grounded theory study, data were drawn from open-ended interviews conducted as part of a larger study of women's and men's responses to sexual violence. The current study indicates the experiences of 48 female and 40 male survivors of childhood sexual abuse and family adversity. Data were analyzed using the constant comparison method.

Findings

Participants described a sense of inheriting a life of abuse and adversity. The process by which childhood adversity influences the life course of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse is labeled Living the Family Legacy. The theory representing the process of Living the Family Legacy includes three major life patterns: (a) being stuck in the family legacy, (b) being plagued by the family legacy, and (c) rejecting the family legacy/creating a new one. Associated with these life patterns are three processes by which participants passed on a legacy to others, often their children: (a) passing on the family legacy, (b) taking a stab at passing on a new legacy, and (c) passing on a new legacy.

Conclusions

The legacy of abuse and adversity has a profound effect on the lives of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. There are several trajectories by which the influence of childhood adversity unfolds in the lives of adult survivors and by which the legacy is passed on to others.

Clinical Relevance

The model representing the theoretical process of Living the Family Legacy can be used by clinicians who work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse and childhood adversity, especially those who have parenting concerns.

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