Acknowledged versus unacknowledged childhood sexual abuse: A comparison of symptomatology for adult survivors

Thomas R. Warner

Abstract

This study examined the differences in levels of symptomatology and the Stages of Change among three groups of 316 college students. Respondents were grouped by their responses to explicit and implicit questions about a possible history of childhood sexual abuse: nonabused respondents, respondents who acknowledged childhood sexual abuse by endorsing both implicit and explicit questions about a history of sexual-abuse (acknowledgers), and respondents who endorsed implicit but not explicit questions about a history of sexual-abuse (nonacknowledgers). Consistent with the physical-abuse literature (Berger, Knutson, Mehm, & Perkins, 1988; Rausch & Knutson, 1991) and one study of child sexual-abuse (Elliott & Briere, 1994), it was hypothesized that nonacknowledgers would report lower levels of symptomatology than would nonabused respondents, and that the acknowledgers would report higher levels of symptomatology than would the nonabused. Additionally, using a Stages of Change theory perspective, it was hypothesized that the nonacknowledgers would have higher scores for the initial (Precontemplation) stage of change, and that the acknowledgers would be more likely to be found in the later stages of change (Contemplation, Action, or Maintenance). The level of symptomatology was measured using the subscale scores of the Trauma Symptom Checklist - 40 (TSC-40) (Elliott & Briere, 1992) and the Stage of Change was measured with the Stages of Change Scales (SOCS; McConnaughy, DiClemente, Prochaska, & Velicer, 1983). A third questionnaire was used to gather demographic and historical data. The acknowledgers were found to have significantly higher levels of symptomatology than were the nonabused. For all subscales that were tested, the levels of symptomatology of the nonacknowledgers were not significantly different from those of the acknowledgers. Both acknowledgers and nonacknowledgers were found to have higher subscale scores on the Contemplation, Action, and Maintenance subscales of the SOCS than an the Precontemplation stage.