OF mental health care and mentally ill
Effect of disclosure on the family in sexual abuse
Effect of disclosure on the family inThis section continues the discussion. of the repercussions of the abuse, now concentrating on the deleterious consequences following abuse disclosure. In this section, however, studies are quantitative, and all focus on abuse by the father. The most widely known effect on the family, and perhaps what the child fears most, is family breakup. In fact, there is good reason to fear this because it is a common effect of disclosure whether or not the abuse is intrafamilial or extrafamilial. As discussed earlier, 40% to 59% of children are removed from their homes after abuse is disclosed and up to two-thirds are eventually removed (Mast & Lundy, 1998; Faller, 1991b). When the child is abused by his or her father, marital dissolution also frequently occurs (Levitt, Owen, & Truchsess, 1991 ; Wright, 1991). Yet even victims of extrafamilial abuse often experience some change in parenting figures (Sauzier, 1989).Financial changes are also prevalent after disclosure and may have a profound effect on the family (Levitt et al., 1991). Indeed, Massat and Lundy (1998) found that mean income for families in which intrafamilial abuse occurred dropped from $50,293 before disclosure to $29,600 after disclosure (and from $30,000 to $20,000 for median income). Half of all respondents also reported a change in residence, and 25% reported a job loss or having to get a new job. Wright (1991) also found that many of the families in which father-daughter incest was disclosed faced financial stress even before disclosure. This stress was then exacerbated by treatment costs, legal fees, and the cost of living expenses for two households. Both parents often had to take on extra jobs, and all within the family were affected by the financial strain. Some of these previously middle-class families were also forced onto welfare, a finding confirmed by Tyler and Brassard (1984), who found that 40% of families went on welfare following a report of incest. Other changes are traumatic as well. In the study of intrafamilial by Tyler and Brassard (1984), 40% of the families had to cope with the humiliation of a public announcement of the abuse. Massat and Lundy (1998) also reported that 50% or more of nonoffending mothers reported worsening family relations or loss of intimacy with the perpetrator. At least 25% also reported declines in relationships with friends. Wright (1991) also found that 64% of the victims noted a decline in their relationships with their mothers and that relationships with their fathers usually became distant. These children reacted sometimes by "being out of control" (p. 144). Many children also had to take on a parental role. Nonabused siblings, however, seemed to become peripheral to this family drama. Finally, Wright (1991) found that each family had an average of 2.9 crisis events with which to cope, whereas Massat and Lundy (1998) found that nonoffending guardians experienced three major costs with disclosure. Levitt et al. (1991) also found that 82% of families indicated that the sexual abuse and its aftermath was the single most stressful event in the last three years. Clearly, the effects of disclosure upon a family are profound. There are also specific effects of the disclosure on the mother. In a study of children evaluated at a sexual assault center (De Jong, 1988), 55% of mothers who were supportive of their children after disclosure suffered emotional changes, including posttraumatic symptoms such as anger, anxiety, sleep disturbance, recurrent episodes of crying, and intrusive thoughts or dreams. Some mothers had somatic complaints as well, and symptoms were severe enough in some women to require hospitalization. In another study (Wagner, 1991), although mothers seeking treatment for their abused children had similar levels of depression to mothers seeking treatment for nonabused children, 9% were extremely depressed, and 59% were mildly to moderately depressed. Another study found that slightly more than half of mothers had clinical levels of symptomatology a few weeks after disclosure, and a third retained clinical levels at the one-year follow-up evaluation (Newberger, Gremy, Waternaux, & Newberger, 1993). The primary theme of this section is that disclosure of incest has devastating effects on family members as they struggle to reconstitute after the disclosure. The most difficult changes with which to cope may be the removal of the child or offender from the home and the financial repercussions of the disclosure. Other major effects of the abuse are that families are often forced to move, mothers must often return to work, and the quality of relations among family members worsens. The psychological wellbeing of mothers of victims also frequently deteriorates.
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Tags: sexual abuse