Child Sexual Abuse and its Relationship to
Revictimization in Adult Women: A Review

Reviewed by
Priscilla Schulz, LCSW

from an article of the same title by:
Terri L. Messman and Patricia J. Long, Oklahoma State University

Published: Clinical Psychology Review,
V. 16 (5), 397-420, 1996

What is the scope of this review?

Physical or sexual abuse experienced by an adult who was sexually abused as a child is called revictimization. The possible causes and likely effects of revictimization are discussed in light of the literature available. Twenty-five articles on revictimization are reviewed and presented in a table. The table allows comparisons at a glance in the following categories: number and characteristics of subjects, how victimization and revictimization were assessed, definitive criteria regarding abusive behaviors and age at which abuse occurred, percentage of subjects in the study who were sexually abused as children, and percentages or other measures of revictimization.

  • two were based on samples of college students (Koss & Dinero,1989 and Gidycz et al.,1993)
  • one was based on a clinical sample (Shields & Hanneke,1988)
  • two were based on community samples (Russell,1986 and Wyatt et al.,1992).
Two of the eighteen studies reviewed detected no differences between comparison groups and therefore did not support the existence of revictimization.

Revictimization as physical assault
A finding of increased vulnerability to physical assault for women who had been sexually abused as children was suggested by six studies that were reviewed.

Psychological effects of revictimization
Both studies on the psychological effects of revictimization that were reviewed found revictimized women at greater risk of psychological disturbance than nonvictims and other women with a history of sexual assault. Revictimized women were found to be more likely to suffer from depression, to be more anxious and/or hostile, and to exhibit other unspecified maladaptions.

What are the theories of cause?
Although no studies have attempted to test theoretical causes empirically, attempts have been made to explain why child victims are more likely to be victimized as adults. The perpetrator's role is given little attention. A combination of acquired beliefs and expectations, learned maladaptive behaviors, and skill deficits on the part of women sexually abused as children are thought to result in poor choices of intimate partners as adults, a lack of self protective techniques, low self worth and denial, and a personal culture that includes abuse as a normal experience.

Reviewed by Priscilla Schulz, February, 2000


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