Caregiver perceptions of sexual abuse and its effect on management after a disclosure

Ingrid Walker-Descartes, Yvette M. Sealy, Danielle Laraque, Mary Rojas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Objective: The aim of the study was to examine caregiver management strategies for child sexual abuse (CSA) when presented with hypothetical scenarios that vary in physical invasiveness. Methods: One hundred fifty three caregivers were given 3 scenarios of CSA with 7 management strategies presented in the 21-item Taking Action Strategies (TAS) scale. Caregivers were asked to rate strategies according to their willingness to carry out each action with rating of 5. =greater likelihood of carrying out the action specified while a rating of 1. =a lower likelihood of carrying out that action. CSA scenarios included exposure to pornography/masturbation, fondling, and penetration while management strategies including fighting the accused, blaming the child, and outreaching to the authorities. Repeated measures ANOVA was used to compare mean TAS scores for the management strategies across CSA scenarios. Results: The difference between TAS scores across the abuse scenarios was statistically significant (p<001). Mean TAS scores reflected greater preference for taking action if the abusive act was perceived as more physically intrusive (exposure to pornography/masturbation-TAS 3.5, fondling-TAS 3.7, penetration-TAS 3.8). Caregivers reported being less willing to handle a disclosure of CSA without outreach (TAS 2.5 and 2.0 for fighting and blaming the child, respectively) and more willing to manage a disclosure with outreach to authorities (TAS 3.8, 4.5, and 4.7 for outreaching to Child Protective Services [CPS], to the child's healthcare provider and police, respectively). A predictor of caregiver outreach to authorities identified was the caregiver having past interactions with CPS. Conclusion: Perception of the physical invasiveness of CSA and demographic factors can impact caregiver management strategies after a disclosure. Practice implications: Results suggest that several factors influence caregiver management of sexual abuse. These factors warrant further study, as they are potential contributors to declining trends in CSA cases observed. Other implications include the need for educational efforts targeting caregivers. These interventions should focus on dispelling myths about the perceived physical invasiveness of CSA. These perceptions should not mitigate a caregiver's decision to involve the authorities in their management after a disclosure. Lastly, despite criticisms of the child protective systems, caregivers with past encounters with CPS view these related agencies as valuable resources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-447
Number of pages11
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Caregiver perceptions
  • Disclosure
  • Management strategies
  • Outreach
  • Sexual abuse


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