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May 2005Vol. 6, No. 4Few Differences Found Among Ethnic Groups' Definitions of Child Sexual Abuse

Hispanic Americans, African-Americans, and White Americans generally agree about what constitutes child sexual abuse and the circumstances under which it should be reported, according to a recent study. Researchers who investigated whether the three largest ethnic populations in the United States would agree on the definitions found differences only at the lowest levels of severity. In those cases, Hispanic Americans and African-Americans were more likely to recognize or report child sexual abuse than were White Americans.

Researchers surveyed 179 adults enrolled in college classes to determine their responses to the Child Sexual Abuse Evaluation questionnaire, as well as a demographic questionnaire. The sexual abuse questionnaire included vignettes designed to represent different levels of abuse severity and different legal categories of abuse as defined by State (Indiana) law. While ethnicity emerged as a variable for one vignette involving less severe abuse, the only other variable that attained significance was gender. Results indicated that females may be more likely than males to interpret inappropriate sexual behaviors by males as wrong, criminal, or reportable, especially in cases in which there is a small age difference between the male perpetrator and the female victim.

Based on their results, the authors of this study suggest that clinicians who work with child victims of sexual abuse can generally assume that clients of different ethnic groups perceive and respond to child sexual abuse similarly, from both a moral and a legal stance. Clinical implications of this study are explored, as are research implications.

The study is described in a recent article, "Do American Ethnic Cultures Differ in Their Definitions of Child Sexual Abuse?" by W. Lowe, Jr., T. W. Pavkov, G. M. Casanova, and J. L. Wetchler. The article was published in the February 2005 issue of the American Journal of Family Therapy and is available for a fee at