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Childhood Sexual Abuse, Attachment, and Trauma Symptoms in College Females: The Moderating Role of Attachment

NCJ Number
Child Abuse & Neglect Volume: 31 Issue: 5 Dated: May 2007 Pages: 549-566
Jeffery E. Aspelmeier; Ann N. Elliott; Christopher H. Smith
Date Published
May 2007
18 pages
This study tested the relationships among attachment, childhood sexual abuse (CSA), and adult psychological functioning in a sample of college females.
Results indicated that a history of CSA was significantly associated with higher levels of trauma-related symptoms and lower levels of attachment security among close adult, parent, and peer relationships. Moreover, attachment security was consistently and significantly associated with trauma-related symptoms. In close peer relationships, the strength of the relationships between attachment measures and trauma symptoms were greater for CSA survivors than for non-abused participants. The opposite results were found for attachment in parental and close adult relationships. Other findings revealed that women with histories of CSA reported persistent and negative mood states that included anger, irritability, depression, and anxiety compared to their counterparts with no history of CSA. While the initial hypothesis of attachment moderating the relationship between CSA and trauma symptoms was only modestly supported, the findings do suggest that attachment security at least partially protects against the negative long-term outcomes of CSA. Future research should utilize longitudinal research models to examine how the relationships among CSA, attachment security, and trauma-related symptoms change over time. Participants were 324 female undergraduate students recruited from introductory psychology courses at a medium-sized university. Participants completed a series of questionnaires measuring a wide range of sexually abusive experiences, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress, and relationship attachment style to adults, parents, and peers. Data were analyzed using multivariate and univariate analyses as well as a series of hierarchical regression models. Tables, figures, references