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Factors Influencing Mothers' Reactions to Intrafamily Sexual Abuse

NCJ Number
Child Abuse & Neglect Volume: 13 Issue: 1 Dated: (1989) Pages: 131-139
E A Sirles; P J Franke
Date Published
9 pages
A mother's question of whether to believe her child's disclosure of intrafamily child sexual abuse was examined by collecting data from clients at the Washington University Child Guidance Center in St. Louis.
The study sample included 85 percent (N = 193) of 225 cases participating in the center's Intrafamily Child Sexual Abuse Program. Subjects and families were referred to the program by social workers, juvenile court workers, hospitals, prevention programs, and private practitioners. Data were obtained on demographic characteristics of the victim (sex, age, and race); family functioning (presence of domestic violence, child physical abuse, and alcohol abuse); abuse (duration, frequency, type, and relation of offender to child); and mothers' reactions to reported abuse. Most mothers believed their children's reports of abuse, 78.2 percent believing and 21.8 percent not believing. Family stressors and difficult situations occasionally detracted from a mother's willingness to accept reported abuse. Two key variables related to mothers' acceptance of reported abuse were the child's age and the relation of the offender to the child. Accepting a child's report of abuse by an extended family member was less threatening to family stability than if the offender was the mother's partner. Biological father offender cases were more likely to be believed than stepfather or live-in partner cases. Since mothers are most often nonperpetrators of abuse and therefore the parent on whom the victim must rely for support and protection, it is important for researchers to obtain as much empirical information on the mother's role as possible. 16 references, 3 tables. (Author abstract modified)


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