Impact of gender on believability of client disclosure of childhood sexual abuse

Janice Elizabeth Tedford (2004)

Abuse of children, including childhood sexual abuse (CSA), continues to be a problem in our society. Research shows individuals with a history of CSA often struggle with the psychological repercussions into adulthood. Problems can range from difficulty with relationships and self esteem, to serious psychological disorders such as depression, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders. Historically understood as a women's issue, with female victims and male perpetrators, treatment of CSA currently is focused on and designed for female survivors. It is becoming increasingly clear that boys are also vulnerable to CSA and females are sometimes perpetrators. It is important that therapists be aware of the impact of their own perceptions when planning treatment. The purpose of this study was to examine therapist attitudes, based on gender of client, when an adult client discloses a history of CSA. Licensed psychologists were randomly selected from a mailing list provided by the American Psychological Association. Psychologists were sent 1 of 4 vignettes, a questionnaire about other factors impacting believability, and a demographic survey. They were asked to rate their confidence in the believability of the report of CSA presented in the vignette and answer questions about factors that might influence their decision. All vignettes were identical except for gender of client or gender of perpetrator. Responses were analyzed by ANOVA to discover if there was a significant difference between confidence levels in truthfulness and gender of client, gender of perpetrator or gender of respondent. Results indicated no differences in believability of a report of CSA based on gender of client. Respondents found reports with male perpetrators more believable than those with female perpetrators (p < .05). Male psychologists reported lower confidence in believability of reports of CSA overall than did female psychologists. Male psychologists expected symptom severity to be the same for male victims regardless of perpetrator gender, but to be worse for female victims with male perpetrators compared to female perpetrators. Female psychologists indicated symptom severity would be higher for individuals with same sex perpetrators compared to individuals with heterosexual perpetrators. Implications of these findings were discussed.