Categories of Childhood Sexual Abuse

In a study recently published in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, the authors considered the different categories of childhood sexual abuse. Often, the victims of childhood sexual abuse are lumped together, for purposes of research. However, it is obvious the behavior described by that label vary widely.

The authors sought to identify discrete categories of abuse (using latent class analysis). They identified 18 different abusive acts, and participants indicted which acts characterized their abuse. They also identified the perpetrator. From this data, the authors identified four different typologies of abuse: an intercourse group, a high-verbal/low-contact group, a high-sexual-contact group, and a sexual-touch group.

  • Intercourse group: this group was likely to have been subject to the highest amount of different abusive acts, and were most likely to have experienced some type of abusive penetration.
  • High-verbal/low-contact group: this group was most likely to have experienced lower levels of abusive sexual contact, but higher amounts of sexual-verbal abuse. This includes hearing others describe sexual acts, been asked sexual questions, and being teased about sexual development.
  • High-sexual-contact group: this group was mostly likely to have experienced high levels of being touched in the genital area, being forcefully kissed, and other unwanted sexual contact.
  • Sexual-touch group: this group was those experiencing the least number of different categories of abusive acts, with the most likely being unwanted sexual touching.

While these categories might not be the cleanest method of organization, some sort of categorization of abuse experiences would be very valuable for research purposes. To be able to treat survivors of childhood sexual abuse, clinicians must make assessments about the level of abuse. It is one important factor when determining the appropriate treatment. Research on specific treatments, broken down by abuse-category, would be highly very helpful.