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Valerie A. Simon


Exposure to childhood sexual abuse (CSA) increases youths' risk for developing psychological and social problems; however, there is significant variability survivors' post-abuse adaptation (Kendall-Tackett, Williams, & Finkelhor, 1993). Youths' attributions regarding their sexual abuse experiences have been identified as one important mechanism linking CSA to later psychosocial functioning. Specifically, youth who blame themselves for the abuse have higher rates of a variety of psychological disorders and social problems (Feiring, Miller-Johnson, & Cleland, 2007; Feiring, Taska, & Chen, 2002; Mannarino & Cohen, 1996; McGee, Wolfe, & Olson, 2001; Spaccarelli, 1994). Interestingly, blaming the perpetrator for the abuse is often unrelated to outcomes (Feiring & Cleland, 2007).

The need to identify other types of abuse-specific attributions has been raised by researchers; however, few studies have answered this call (Celano, 1992; Spacerelli, 1994). Of particular significance is the absence of information regarding the content and value of "healthy" attributions of responsibility related to abuse. The current study aims to enhance our understanding of the complex range of attributions youth make about their sexual experiences. Using trauma narratives obtained from 98 youth with confirmed cases of CSA, I developed a coding system to assess youths' complex array of spontaneous attributions related to their abuse experiences. Youth made a variety of attributions about abuse, and these attributions frequently co-occur. Second, narrative accounts of attributions can be reliability coded. Third, a narrative measure may vary in its sensitivity to assessing attributions, which may influence the validity with some individuals. Specifically, some individuals may divulge while narrating their experiences while others may disclose less. The extent to which this individual variation is a function of the particular interview used in this study is an important question for future research. Fourth, profiles of attributions existed in this sample, but did not aide in predicting outcomes. This may, in part, reflect the inclusion of attributions directed at "others" who vary in their identity, role, and relevance across youth. When focusing on the two primary "actors" consistent across youth's stories - the self and the perpetrator - the interactive effects of these co-occurring attributions predicted youths' psychological adjustment.

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