The Mediating Role of Secrecy in The Development of Psychopathology in Sexually Abused Children.

I. van Delft, C. Finkenauer, J.C. de Schipper, F. Lamers, M.M. Visser

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although child sexual abuse (CSA) is associated with psychopathology, limited research examined mechanisms through which CSA leads to psychopathology in children. It is generally assumed that CSA is associated with secrecy among children, to our knowledge this assumption has not yet been empirically tested. This gap in our understanding of the aftermath of CSA is surprising in light of abundant evidence linking secrecy to psychopathology among children. The current study examined whether, as compared to children who have not experienced CSA, CSA victims have a greater tendency for secrecy as reported by mothers and children, and whether psychopathology in CSA victims may be explained by their tendency to keep secrets. Sixty-three non-offending mothers and their sexually abused children (68.3% female; M age. = 10.89) and 48 mothers and their non-abused children (62.5% female; M age = 11.17) completed questionnaires on secrecy and psychopathology (i.e., internalizing and externalizing behavior problems). Mothers of abused children perceived higher levels of secrecy and psychopathology in their children as compared to mothers of non-abused children. There were no differences in child-reported secrecy between abused and non-abused children. Mediation analyses revealed that mother-reported secrecy mediated the association between CSA and psychopathology. These findings suggest that secrecy is a potential mechanism underlying psychopathology associated with CSA, which has important implications for treatment of abused children.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-36
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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