Behavioral markers of coping and psychiatric symptoms among sexually abused children


  • We wish to thank Amber Diagre, Brian Maxey, Taeh Ward, Jeanne Arnts, and Donna Potter for their assistance with the study. This research was supported in part by NIMH grant K08 MH076078 (PI: Kaplow).


The current study examined coping and psychiatric symptoms in a longitudinal sample of sexually abused children. Coping was behaviorally coded from children's forensic interviews in the aftermath of sexual abuse. Using principal components analysis, coping behaviors were found to cluster into 3 categories: avoidant, expressive, and positive affective coping. Avoidant coping had predictive utility for a range of psychiatric symptoms, including depressive, posttraumatic stress, anxiety, and dissociative symptoms as well as aggression and attention problems measured 8–36 months following the forensic interview. Specific behaviors, namely fidgetiness and distractibility, were also found to be associated with future symptoms. These findings suggest the predictive utility of avoidant behaviors in general, and fidgetiness and distractibility in particular, among sexually abused children.