Title

Childhood sexual abuse: Are marriage and family therapists less likely to hypothesize sexual abuse in men as compared to women?

Date of Award

2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Marriage and Family Therapy

Keywords

Marriage and family therapists, Gender biases in sexual abuse, Male childhood sexual abuse, Sexual abuse, Male sexual abuse, Therapist gender

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology | Gender and Sexuality | Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology

Abstract

Prior research in the field of psychology has indicated that clinicians are less likely to hypothesize histories of sexual abuse in men as opposed to women (G. R. Holmes & Offen, 1996) and that mental health workers have demonstrated attitudes and practices that were not conducive to sexual abuse assessment for male clients (Lab, Feingenbaum, and De Silva, 2000). The primary purpose of this study was to examine the effects of gender on marriage and family therapists' hypotheses of childhood sexual abuse in men versus women. This study also examined possible attitudinal and practice-based differences in dealing with men and women around the assessment of childhood sexual abuse. Method. Four-hundred-eighty-eight family therapists were recruited who were members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Therapists randomly assigned to one of two conditions were asked to provide demographic data, offer their hypotheses on presented cases summaries, and then respond to questions about their attitudes and practices regarding sexual abuse assessment for male and female clients. In both conditions of the study the first portion of the questionnaire, initially designed by G. R. Holmes and Offen, provided two case summaries of prospective clients. The first vignette described a person with presenting indicators of depression and the second client with indicators of a history of childhood sexual abuse. In Condition 1 the first client was male while the second client was female. In Condition 2 the first client was female with the second client being male. In the second portion of the questionnaire, initially designed by Lab et al., therapists were asked to indicate their attitudes and practices regarding sexual abuse assessment for male and female clients respectively. Results. Marriage and family therapists in this study were less likely to hypothesize sexual abuse in the adult male client as compared to the adult female client presenting with indicators of childhood sexual abuse. There were no significant differences between male and female therapists' rate of sexual abuse hypotheses within responses for male and female clients respectively. Therapists overall indicated that they inquire about sexual abuse more often in female clients than male clients, despite the fact that there were no significant differences in their beliefs about how often male and female clients should be assessed for sexual abuse. Therapists also indicated feeling they had less sufficient training in how to inquire about sexual abuse with men as compared to women. Implications. If therapists are less likely to recognize sexual abuse indicators in men than women this issue may go untreated in male clients. This phenomenon as well as the fact that therapists indicated lower rates of sexual abuse assessment in men may account for the under recognition and underestimates of male childhood sexual abuse prevalence discussed in other research. Given the discrepancies in responses for male and female clients, marriage and family therapists may need specific training around the issue of male childhood sexual abuse to try and close the resulting gender gaps found in this study. Further qualitative and quantitative research in the field of marriage and family therapy around gender and clinician factors in sexual abuse assessment and treatment is recommended.

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