Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Cathy Spatz Widom

Committee Members

Maureen Allwood

Angela Crossman

Lila Kazemian

Nonda Volpe

Subject Categories



childhood; childhood sexual abuse; long term effects; maltreatment; parenting; resiliency


Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a pervasive problem that has been the focus of substantial empirical research. While negative outcomes such as psychiatric diagnoses or health problems have been well documented, the literature regarding the effects of CSA on parenting is sparse and has produced conflicting results. Moreover, the existing research on CSA's effect on later parenting has several methodological limitations (e.g., retrospective data) and has failed to find any consistent explanatory mechanisms/pathways for which CSA is most likely to impede parental success. The present study examined whether a history of CSA leads to negative parental outcomes (i.e., how they handle conflict and whether victims of CSA engage in physical abuse or neglect of their children) using a prospective cohort design with 70 court-substantiated cases of CSA and a matched control group (n = 70). Current parenting behaviors as well as potential explanatory mechanisms/pathways, such as family-of-origin effects and psychiatric diagnoses, were assessed via self-report and standardized measures. Results of this study failed to find differences between the CSA and matched control groups in terms of current reported parenting behavior. Additionally, while CSA was associated with significantly higher rates of family-of-origin problems, those variables did not influence current parenting. Overall, this study failed to find a direct relationship between a history of CSA and negative parenting practices (i.e., how they handle conflict, physical abuse, neglect), or an indirect relationship via additional pathways through family-of-origin effects or psychological distress. The results of this study suggest that parenting may not be as negatively affected by CSA as previously believed.

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