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"Sexually Abused Child": Potential Mechanisms of Adverse Influences of Such a Label

NCJ Number
Aggression and Violent Behavior Volume: 8 Issue: 6 Dated: November-December 2003 Pages: 645-670
Gabriel Holguin; David J. Hansen
Date Published
November 2003
26 pages
This article examines hypothesized mechanisms for how the labeling of a child as "sexually abused" may in itself have an adverse influence on the child's development.
The various correlates that have been associated with child sexual abuse (CSA) are briefly reviewed in order to provide a background for understanding possible labeling influences. Labeling research from a variety of areas is reviewed, including educational and mental illness labels, followed by an overview of research that pertains to the sexual abuse label. A working model of the sexual abuse labeling process is then presented. The working model links concepts and theoretical underpinnings of the social psychology, educational, and related literatures regarding expectations, biases, and labeling; and proposes how such phenomena may act as influential pathways that lead to an increased potential for the negative outcomes often cited in the CSA literature. Practical experience suggests that it is not uncommon for professionals and other adults who interact with the sexually abused child and the child's family to react in ways that suggest or overtly state that the child is significantly different from other children because of the victimization. Reactions and expectations that stem from this belief about the child can result in the lowering or changing of expectations for the child. Further, peers of a labeled child create and maintain negative impressions that are unrelated to the child's actual attributes and behaviors. The working model hypothesizes that it is through the lowering of expectations or the creation of negative biases that sexually abused children may be adversely influenced, notably in limiting opportunities based in high expectations for educational and social performance. Suggestions are offered for future research and practice. 96 references