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July 2002Vol. 3, No. 6Study Examines Intrafamilial Child Sexual Abuse

A University of Maryland study by researchers Denise Pintello and Susan Zuravin examines intrafamilial child sexual abuse and the predictors of postdisclosure maternal belief and protective action. The two purposes of the study were to determine the percentage of nonoffending, biological mothers who were concordant in belief and protection of their sexually abused children, and the characteristics that predicted concordance.

Data were collected on a sample of 435 biological, nonoffending mothers of sexually abused children who were referred to a CPS Sexual Abuse Unit between 1989 and 1995. Descriptive statistics and logistic regression were used to identify the proportion and the predictors of maternal belief and protective action. Four criteria were used in selecting the mothers for the study:

  • The mother resided with her sexually abused child at the time of disclosure
  • The CPS sexual abuse investigation was substantiated
  • Risk assessment by the caseworker indicated that the case was at moderate, significant or high risk of recurrence
  • The child sexual abuse was intrafamilial (defined as any sexual molestation or exploitation of a person younger than age 18 perpetrated by a parent, relative, or household of family member).

The results showed that 42 percent of mothers both believed and took protective action toward their sexually abused children. Thirteen percent responded they believed but did not protect their children, 14 percent took protective action but did not believe their children, and 31 percent neither believed nor protected their children.

Four predictors (three maternal and one child) were shown to be significant for maternal belief and protective action. Mothers who gave birth to their first child as an adult were 3.2 times more likely to believe and protect. Mothers who were not in a sexual relationship with the offender were 2.8 times more likely to believe and protect. Mothers who had knowledge of the sexual abuse before the initial CPS report were 5.8 times less likely to believe and take protective action. And mothers whose victimized children did not exhibit sexualized behavior were 2.2 times more likely to believe and protect.

The researchers' write-up of the study, "Intrafamilial Child Sexual Abuse: Predictors of Postdisclosure Maternal Belief and Protective Action," was named the APSAC Dissertation of the Year. It was published in the November 2001 issue of Child Maltreatment.

Related Items

See the following related articles in the Children's Bureau Express:

  • "Mental Health Guidelines Updated for Child Victims of Intrafamilial Abuse" (September/October 2001)
  • "New Mental Health Guidelines Drafted for Child Victims of Intrafamilial Abuse" (July 2000)