Closeness in relationships as a mediator between sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence and psychopathological outcome in adulthood



The risk of adverse psychological outcomes in adult victims of childhood and adolescent sexual abuse (CSA) has been documented; however, research on possible mediating variables is still required, namely with a clinical perspective. The attachment literature suggests that secure interpersonal relationships may represent such a variable. Twenty-eight women who had experienced episodes of CSA, and 16 control women, were interviewed using Bremner's Early Trauma Inventory and the DSM-IV Global Assessment of Functioning; they also responded to Collins' Relationship Scales Questionnaire, evaluating adult attachment representations in terms of Closeness, Dependence and Anxiety. Subjects with an experience of severe abuse reported significantly more interpersonal distance in relationships (low index of Closeness) than other subjects. The index of psychopathological functioning was correlated with both the severity of abuse and attachment (low index of Closeness). Regression analysis on the sample of abused women revealed that attachment predicted psychopathology when abuse was controlled for, whereas abuse did not predict psychopathology when attachment was controlled for. Therefore, preserving a capacity for closeness with attachment figures in adulthood appears to mediate the consequences of CSA on subsequent psychopathological outcome. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Key Practitioner Message:

• The way CSA victims deal with closeness and intimacy in relationships contributes to the quality of psychological outcome in adulthood.

• Treatment strategies for CSA victims should emphasize the enhancement of interpersonal experiences and the strengthening of the subject's sense of closeness to others, intimacy in relationships, and confidence in others.