Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

Patrica J. Morokoff


The body of research that exists on disclosure of childhood sexual trauma is rich. However, the literature on disclosure has a noticeable shortcoming. For example, there is little or no research that explores the relationship between a victims' perceived response to disclosure and whether this response has any impact on subsequent help-seeking behavior. As a result of their experience of disclosure, do adult survivors of sexual abuse resort to secrecy or maladaptive coping behaviors aimed at controlling the stressful situation (e.g., use of drugs, alcohol, distraction, avoidance, engaging in sexual risk-taking behaviors)? Or do survivors of CSA utilize constructive strategies aimed at reducing the stress of being sexually molested by expanding the resources for dealing with it (e.g., speaking with friends, family, clergy, therapist, etc.). Examining the disclosure process of women and how the disclosure experience impacts future help seeking is important to understanding how women cope and heal from their sexual abuse experience. It has been documented in the literature that in comparison to men that women are more likely to experience feelings of depression and distress and it would be of importance to discern whether these subjective psychological experiences affect disclosure and help seeking behavior. This study utilized a clinical sample of six female participants, who were asked to take a retrospective look at the disclosure process and the response that they received to their disclosure. The study aimed to qualitatively examine whether or not response to disclosure had an effect on future help seeking behaviors and subsequent disclosure. Findings from the study indicate that a positive response to disclosure may not be the only determinant of future help seeking behavior as was previously thought. This study highlights that feeling supported is significant. In fact, support may serve as a buffer against some of the deleterious outcomes commonly associated with sexual trauma history. It appears that having strong family support from a maternal figure, a sense of belonging in the family, and having the perpetrator punished in some way were important aspects of the disclosure experience. Future studies should explore the role of support in future help seeking as support may be a better predictor of future help seeking among sexual abuse survivors.



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