Childhood sexual abuse, attachment, and trauma symptoms in college females: the moderating role of attachment

Jeffery E Aspelmeier, Ann N Elliott, Christopher H Smith
Child Abuse & Neglect 2007, 31 (5): 549-66

OBJECTIVE: The present study tests a model linking attachment, childhood sexual abuse (CSA), and adult psychological functioning. It expands on previous work by assessing the degree to which attachment security moderates the relationship between a history of child sexual abuse and trauma-related symptoms in college females.

METHOD: Self-reports of attachment, childhood sexual abuse, and adult psychological functioning were obtained from 324 female undergraduate students attending a Southeastern U.S. university. Separate analyses were conducted examining the potential moderating role for close-adult, parent-child, and peer attachment styles.

RESULTS: In this sample, 37.7% of participants reported sexually abusive experiences prior to age 16. History of child sexual abuse was consistently associated with higher levels of trauma-related symptoms and lower levels of attachment security in close-adult, parent-child, and peer relations. Additionally, attachment security was consistently associated with trauma-related symptoms. Close-adult, parent-child, and peer attachment differentially moderated trauma-related symptoms. Specifically, in peer relationships, the strength of the relationships between attachment measures and trauma symptoms were greater for CSA survivors than for non-abused participants. The opposite pattern of results was found for attachment in parental and close-adult relationships.

CONCLUSION: Results suggest that attachment security in peer and parent relationships protects against the negative effects of CSA, while only weak, marginally significant protective effects were observed for close-adult relationships. Only modest support was found for the conceptualization of attachment as a moderator of the relationship between CSA and trauma-related symptoms. However, the results suggest that attachment security at least partially protects against negative CSA outcomes.


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