Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name





Psychology, Adjustment, Cognitions, Emotions, Sexual abuse survivors, Sexually aggressive


Rosanne Menna




The present study examined the adjustment, emotional, and cognitive differences between sexually aggressive child sexual abuse (CSA) survivors and non-sexually aggressive CSA survivors. Research suggests that children who have experienced sexual abuse may have high levels of shame and/or guilt (Deblinger & Runyon, 2005). In addition, a relation has been reported between adjustment difficulties following CSA and a pessimistic attribution style (Feiring, Taska, & Chen, 2002). It was hypothesized that compared to non-sexually aggressive CSA survivors, sexually aggressive CSA survivors would have more adjustment difficulties as evidenced by higher levels of internalizing, externalizing, and trauma-related symptomology; would be more prone to shame and maladaptive guilt; and would have a pessimistic attribution style.

Participants were 83 children (44 females and 39 males) ranging in age from 4-12 years. Participants were divided into 3 groups. The Sexually Aggressive group (SA) consisted of 32 children referred to a sexual assault crisis centre because of a history of CSA and were evidencing interpersonal sexual behaviour problems (SBP). The Non-Sexually Aggressive group (NSA) consisted of 26 children referred to a sexual assault crisis centre because of a history of CSA and were not reported to have been displaying interpersonal SBP. The Comparison group (COM) consisted of 25 children from the community, with no known history of CSA or SBP.

Scenario-based measures were used to assess participant's attribution style and shame- and guilt-proneness. Caregiver-report measures were used to assess participant's response to trauma, internalizing and externalizing symptomology, and the presence and intensity of sexual behaviours.

Results indicated that children in the SA group evidenced more adjustment difficulties including both global and trauma-related symptomology. Although group differences were not found with respect to attribution style and shame- and guilt-proneness, a significant correlation was found between maladaptive guilt and SSP scores. The results highlight a pattern of risk factors associated with sexual aggression following CSA.