Women Receive More Positive Reactions to Childhood Sexual Abuse Disclosure and Negative Reactions are Associated With Mental Health Symptoms in Adulthood for Men and Women

Although disclosure of sexual abuse has become more socially acceptable for both men and women in recent years, there is much yet to be understood about differences in the disclosure process and associated pathology between men and women.

The current study aimed to;

  • (a) Investigate differences in aspects of the childhood sexual abuse (CSA) disclosure process between adult men and women.
  • (b) Explore how timing of disclosure, perceived parental style, and negative social reactions to disclosure relate to various mental health symptoms.

Using a cross-sectional, quasi-experimental design, adult men and women in the United States recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (N=299) completed self-report surveys. Women reported disclosing to a significantly greater number of people than men, and were more likely to disclose to parents, while men were more likely to tell friends.

Results revealed that women reported receiving significantly more positive responses and emotionally supportive responses to their CSA disclosures than men. Negative reactions to disclosure were positively associated with internalizing symptoms and externalizing symptoms, while both negative reactions to disclosure and perceived parental dysfunction were positively associated with substance use symptoms.

Results signify a need for resources to aid individuals in supporting survivors of CSA, as reactions have the potential to impact recovery trajectory and for clinicians to consider how disclosure experiences impact survivor cognitions and symptom exacerbation.

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