Child sexual abuse and adult romantic adjustment: comparison of single- and multiple-indicator measures

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Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp. 693-705.

Research indicates child sexual abuse (CSA) has long-term consequences that may affect future marital functioning. Some studies have used multiple indicators "to obtain detailed information about the nature and correlates of CSA"; while others "have employed single item indicators in an effort to...respect and protect participants' privacy and wellbeing" (p. 694). This study compared the usefulness of single and multiple-indicator measures using a well-supported mediational model that associated CSA with marital satisfaction (assessed through measures of attachment representations and psychological distress). The authors hypothesized that the multiple-indicator approach would more strongly predict future marital satisfaction.

The sample of 1,092 French Canadian participants was recruited voluntarily through media advertisements and randomized telephone calls and included men (516) and women (574) in cohabiting or marital relationships who had lived together for a minimum of 6 months. Independent of their partners, participants completed questionnaires including: 1) a single-item measure exploring the presence or absence of CSA, and 2) a multiple-indicator measure including items "relating to level of force, relationship with perpetrator, number of abusive experiences, and nature of assault" (p. 695) and, 3) psychosocial measures of attachment, psychological distress, and dyadic adjustment. Of the 13% of participants who reported CSA, 40% reported one instance of abuse and 60% indicated more than one instance; approximately half of the perpetrators were extrafamilial.

Analyses of the single and multiple indicator models were conducted using structural equation modeling. Results did not support the original hypothesis; instead they demonstrated that, for research purposes, the simple presence of CSA provided sufficient information to predict the relationship between CSA and marital functioning through attachment representations and psychological distress. The authors suggest future research should separately examine indicators of CSA to better understand the correlation with future marital functioning.

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