Comparing Incarcerated and College Student Women With Histories of Childhood Sexual Abuse: The Roles of Abuse Severity, Support, and Substance Use

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Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is often a risk factor for negative psychological and psychosocial outcomes. For example, some studies find that survivors of CSA are at an increased risk for experiencing involvement with the criminal justice system (e.g., incarceration). To examine the relationship between CSA and incarceration outcomes in women, data were obtained from 169 inmates and 420 college students, a number of whom were survivors of some form of CSA (66.0% and 35.5%, respectively). Results suggested that incarcerated survivors had more severe CSA experiences, more psychological symptoms (e.g., depression, posttraumatic stress), and endorsed more coping difficulties and problematic family functioning relative to college student survivors. In addition, incarcerated survivors were from more impoverished backgrounds and more frequently had experienced involvement with child protective services (e.g., being in foster care) relative to college student survivors. Further, results of logistical regression suggested that the severity of CSA, current social support adequacy, and problematic substance use emerge as significant predictors of incarceration among CSA survivors. Of the many variables that differ between female inmates and college student survivors, findings indicated that more severe abuse, substance use, and lack of social support may be considered especially important risk factors for incarceration. These findings may aid in the refinement of interventions, prevention efforts, and educational programs regarding CSA and shed light on predictors of incarceration among this high risk group.

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