Sexual Abuse and Forgiveness: A Regression Analysis

John Beckenbach, Ed.D.
Texas State University

Fran Giordano, Ph.D.
Northern Illinois University

James Sells, Ph.D.
Regent University

Toni Tollerud, Ph.D.
Northern Illinois University

ABSTRACT

This study investigated whether the experience of sexual abuse, long-term effects, global presence of pain, and previous treatment experiences of childhood sexual abuse predict level of forgiveness toward the perpetrator(s) by the survivors. The Hargrave model of forgiveness was utilized in this study yielding four separate regression analyses. Significant results were found for all four regressions. The general findings suggest that sexual abuse treatment may influence the work of forgiveness and that forgiveness could be useful in treating sexual abuse survivors.

It is widely known that the presence of childhood sexual abuse in American society is a significant social problem with important mental health ramifications (Russell, 1986, 1999). There has been a steady increase in research and treatment approaches regarding the issues facing adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. These issues include identifying the sexual abuse factors related to the childhood experience of sexual abuse, the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse on the adult survivor, and various treatment considerations and models pertinent to providing successful therapeutic interventions for the sexual abuse survivor (Blume, 1990; Briere, 1992; Brown, 1991; Courtois, 1991; Follette, Naugle, & Follette, 1997; Lew, 1990; Mayer, 1995; Root, 1989; Salter, 1995; Schwartz, 1994; Shapiro & Dominiak, 1991).

While the exact percentage of people affected is difficult to ascertain and the statistics vary widely, the most frequently cited prevalence rate is that 1 in 4 females (Blume, 1990; Brown, 1991, Russell, 1986; 1999) and 1 in 7 males (Bass & Davis, 1988; Hazzard, Rogers, & Angert, 1993; Threadcraft & Wilcoxon, 1993) are victims of sexual abuse. Clearly, this suggests that sexual abuse is a common occurrence in society, increasing the importance for understanding it and the effects it has on the survivor.

Many aspects of sexual trauma have been investigated to gain a clearer understanding of the issue and improve treatment for survivors. In part, this research has addressed the pertinent factors involved with the experience of the sexual trauma (e.g., Brown & Finklehor, 1986; Courtois, 1991; Finklehor, 1984, 1990; Holeman, 1994; Rind, Tromovitch, & Bauserman, 1998; Russell, 1986, 1999). Important factors that have been shown to influence client's success in treatment include the duration of the abuse (Binder, McNeil, & Goldstone, 1996), the frequency of the abuse (Hazzard et al., 1993), age of onset (Zlotnick, Shea, Begin, Pearlstein, Simpson, & Costello, 1996), relation to the perpetrator (Beitchman, Zucker, Hood, DeCosta, Akmam, & Cassavia, 1992), and severity of the sexual violation (Holeman, 1994; Rind, Bauserman, & Tromovitch, 1998).

In addition to identifying the pertinent factors associated with the experience of childhood sexual abuse, there have been many research efforts to ascertain the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse (e.g., Blume, 1990; Briere, 1991, 1996a; Brown, 1991; Courtois, 1988, 1991; Finklehor, 1984, 1990; Follette, Naugle, & Follette, 1997; Mayer, 1995; Root, 1989; Russell, 1986; Salter, 1995; Schwartz, 1994; Shapiro & Dominiak, 1991; Simmons, Sack, & Miller, 1996). Consistent patterns of the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse have emerged. For example, Briere and Runtz (1991), Courtois (1988), and Finklehor (1990) report dissociation, difficulty in intimate relationships, depression, and low self-esteem as a few, more common long-term symptoms of childhood sexual abuse.

The research literature reveal three important aspects associated with sexual abuse survivors. First, it happens frequently. Second, there are many factors surrounding the experience of sexual abuse that significantly influences the victim. Third, there are significant long-term effects to the survivor of childhood sexual abuse. As a result, the need for development and empirical review of treatment methods is important for the improved care of sexual abuse survivors.

Forgiveness and Sexual Abuse

Although a relatively new concept in the field of counseling, there has been a recent increased interest in the construct of forgiveness by researchers, theorists, and practitioners alike (Enright & the Human Development Study G roup, 1994, 1996; Hargrave & Sells, 1997; Pingleton, 1989; Worthington; 1998). As a result, several forgiveness models have emerged lending to variations in how forgiveness is defined. For example, Enright (Gassin & Enright, 1995) define forgiveness as:

…a voluntary forswearing of negative affect and judgment by an injured party directed at someone who has inflicted a significant, deep, and unjust hurt; this process also involves viewing the wrongdoer with love and compassion. In general, this is a process of struggling with and ultimately abandoning negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors directed at the perpetrator, while gradually and actively incorporating positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors towards the same. (p. 75)

Whereas, Hargrave and Sells (1997) state, “The work of forgiveness … is defined as effort in restoring love and trustworthiness to relationships so that victims and victimizers can put an end to destructive entitlement” (p. 43). Both these definitions of forgiveness involve a voluntary release of injury and self-damage and a restoration of goodwill towards the offender. Ultimately, forgiveness is the gift of releasing the right to revenge, lifting the load of culpability, and viewing the offender with compassion.

Many empirical studies have investigated the effects of forgiveness strategies as a useful modality in the treatment of the effects of relational injury and as a strategy to relational restitution, resolution, and development (Enright & Coyle, 1998; Hargrave & Sells, 1997; Holeman, 1994; McCullough, Worthington, & Rachal, 1997; Worthington, 1998). Results generally indicate that forgiveness strategies are very useful in the treatment of relational injury.

The application of forgiveness as a therapeutic tool for adult sexual abuse survivors is controversial and often contentious. For example, Briere (1992) does not refer to concepts of forgiveness as therapeutically relevant at any point through the recovery process of the adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse (Briere, 1996a, 1996b, 1997; Briere & Elliott, 1994; Briere & Runt, 1988, 1991). Courtois (1988, 1991), on the other hand, does discuss the topic of forgiveness but guards against its implementation in a therapeutic setting. Courtois (1988) adds that introducing the concept too soon in the treatment process could cause further damage to the survivor and thus may avoid the consideration of forgiveness. Additionally, Bass and Davis (1988; 1994) view forgiveness as therapeutically damaging and maintain that forgiveness should not be considered as relevant to the survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Lew (1990), on the other hand, gives the forgiveness concept more attention in the treatment of sexual abuse survivors but remains uncommitted to the ideology. He suggests that forgiveness is unnecessary in recovery from the effects of abuse but adds that some survivors may find benefit in forgiveness. Therefore, the use of forgiveness concepts in the treatment of adult survivors is relatively minimal, if not discouraged.

Forgiveness models of therapy and sexual abuse treatment models both concern themselves, in part, with the effects of relational injury and violations of trust in relationships. However, there are a small number of studies that have examine these issues conjointly (Freedman & Enright, 1996; Holeman, 1994; Holeman & Myers, 1998; Moon, 1989; Tracy, 1999; Wilson, 1994). For example, Moon (1989) found that forgiveness of the perpetrator was a significant predictor of later adjustment. Freedman and Enright (1996) found that incorporating forgiveness concepts into group treatment settings for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse produced greater outcomes than with a group setting where forgiveness concepts were omitted. These two studies suggest that there may be utility in using forgiveness strategies in the care of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Although these studies suggest utility to the use of forgiveness ideas in the care of survivors, there has been no recent efforts to study the topic.

Forgiveness seems promising in the treatment of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. However, sexual abuse treatment theorists and researchers have rejected, continue to reject, and otherwise display an unwillingness to consider the inclusion of forgiveness strategies in the treatment models of sexual abuse survivors (Bass & Davis, 1994; Briere, 1997; Courtois 1988, 1991; Lew, 1990). Little effort to consider forgiveness as an intervention, either philosophically or empirically, has been done, possibly limiting the scope of sexual abuse care. The inclusion of forgiveness strategies in the treatment of sexual abuse survivors may provide additional treatment avenues not otherwise available. Therefore, greater clarity is needed regarding the factors associated with sexual abuse; long-term effects; treatment issues; and if, when, and how to introduce forgiveness strategies into the therapeutic context.

Specifically, this study examined the relationship between the childhood experience of sexual abuse of the adult survivors, the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse, previous treatment histories and forgiveness to aid in clarifying the relationship between sexual abuse and forgiveness. Using the Hargrave (1994) model of forgiveness which maintains that forgiveness consists of four deminsions or stations, four hypotheses were generated. Specifically, the four hypotheses were:

•  The first hypothesis was that the childhood experience of sexual abuse, long-term effects of sexual abuse, and previous treatment will account for significant (p < .05) amounts of unique variance in the adult survivor's level of insight associated with forgiveness.

•  The first hypothesis was that the childhood experience of sexual abuse, long-term effects of sexual abuse, and previous treatment will account for significant (p < .05) amounts of unique variance in the adult survivor's level of Understanding associated with forgiveness.

•  The first hypothesis was that the childhood experience of sexual abuse, long-term effects of sexual abuse, and previous treatment will account for significant (p < .05) amounts of unique variance in the adult survivor's level of Trust associated with forgiveness.

•  The first hypothesis was that the childhood experience of sexual abuse, long-term effects of sexual abuse, and previous treatment will account for significant (p < .05) amounts of unique variance in the adult survivor's level of Overt Acts of Forgiving associated with forgiveness.

Methods

Participants

The identified population for this study was adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Participants for this study were solicited in several ways, including newspaper ads, Internet support groups for sexual abuse survivors, direct appeals to counseling agencies who provided services in sexual abuse recovery, flyers posted at a local mid-sized mid-western university, and through domestic violence/sexual abuse treatment organizations across the United States . A total of 1,725 packets were distributed with 236 usable packets returned. This produced an overall return rate of 14%.

The age range for the participants of this study was 18 to 64 years (M=38.74, SD=11.11). Caucasians constituted 89% of the participants. There were a total of nine African-Americans, representing 3.8% of the participants. There were four Latino/Hispanic subjects, constituting 1.7% of the sample. There was one Pacific Islander, making up 0.4% of the subjects. Finally, there were five subjects who identified themselves as multiracial, which accounted for 2.1% of participants , with 3% missing racial data. The majority of the participants were women ( n =212), constituting 89.8% of the total sample population. There were 24 male subjects that made up for 10.2% of the sample. Eighty participants, totaling 33.9% of the sample, were married at the time the surveys were completed. The subjects who were single totaled 43.6% of the sample ( n =103). There were 53 divorcees, constituting 22.5% of the participants in the study.

Of this sample, 58.5% of the subjects reported attending group therapy at some point in their lives. The majority of the sample ( n =227) reported receiving individual therapy while 3.4% ( n =8) reported they had not received individual therapy. Sixty-eight subjects reported seeking couples therapy, accounting for 28.8% of the sample, while 167 or 70.8% of the participants reported never seeking couples therapy. A majority of the sample ( n =186) reported never seeking family therapy, constituting 78.8% of the total sample. Forty-nine subjects reported that they had attended family therapy in their lives. The majority of participants in this study experienced individual therapy and were closely divided on whether they had experienced group therapy. The average length of care extended over 5 years.

Measures

Subjects were given a packet containing four self-report instruments: the Childhood Experience Inventory (CEI) (Holeman, 1994), the Trauma Symptom Checklist - 40 (TSC-40) (Elliott & Briere, 1992), the Interpersonal Relationship Resolution Scale (IRRS) (Hargrave & Sells, 1997), and a demographic form.

Demographic Data Form.

A questionnaire designed to inquire about basic demographic data associated with the subject was included in the packet. Questions addressed the age, gender, race, and marital status of the subject. Additionally, previous treatment information was gathered through a series of questions designed to identify the number of mental health experiences the subject has had, the duration of care, the type of treatment, the problem addressed in treatment, and whether or not childhood sexual abuse was addressed at anytime during the treatment process.

The Childhood Experience Inventory (CEI).

Holeman's Childhood Experience Inventory (CEI) was used to measure the variables associated with the experiences, conditions, and other related factors surrounding the sexual abuse in childhood.

No reliability or validity data is available on this instrument. However, review of relevant literature suggests that this instrument is consistent with current knowledge on those factors that negatively effect the childhood sexual abuse experience and contains face validity (e.g., Bass & Davis, 1988, 1994; Blume, 1990; Brown, 1991; Courtois, 1991; Follette, Naugle, & Follette, 1997; Mayer, 1995; Salter, 1995; Shapiro & Dominiak, 1991; Simmons, Sack, & Miller, 1996). Additionally, there was one adjustment made to this instrument for the purpose of this study. The instrument was designed for those who have experienced sexual abuse prior to the age of 18. For this study, this was changed to only include those who have experienced sexual abuse while under the age of 16. This alteration is reflective of most views that the sexual abuse of children is limited to those under the age of 16 (e.g., Blume, 1990; Courtois, 1991).

Trauma Symptom Checklist-40 (TSC-40).

The TSC – 40 was used to measure the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse. The TSC - 40 was designed by John Briere (Elliott & Briere, 1991, 1992) to be used primarily as a research instrument for studies regarding adult survivors of childhood sexual trauma. Elliot and Briere (1992) constructed the TSC-40 subscales using a symptom approach to develop clusters or subscales in the instrument. The symptom approach method of test development relies on observable and reportable symptoms for the development of test items. Thus, Elliott and Briere (1992) reviewed existing data of observable and reportable symptoms associated with childhood sexual abuse survivors and developed the six subscales of the TSC-40: depression, anxiety, disassociation, posttraumatic symptoms, sleep disturbance, and sexual problems (Elliott & Briere, 1992).

Several studies have been conducted to establish the reliability and validity of the TSC-40, revealing good reliability and validity results for the instrument (Briere & Runtz, 1988; Elliott & Briere, 1991, 1992; Zlotnick, et al., 1996). Elliott and Briere (1991) conducted an analysis of internal consistency to establish reliability of the instrument. They found the reliability for the total TSC-40 to be very strong ( a = .90). The average alpha for the six subscales was .69 and ranged from .62 to .77.

The Interpersonal Relationship Resolution Scale (IRRS).

The final instrument utilized in the study was the Interpersonal Relationship Resolution Scale (IRRS) developed by Hargrave and Sells (1997). It is a self-report instrument designed to measure an individual's perceptions of relational violations. The IRRS consists of two dimensions, each containing four subscales. The first dimension is called the manifestation of pain and measures the pain associated with relational violation as seen in the four subscales. The four subscales for the manifestation of pain dimension are rage, shame, control, and chaos.

The second dimension in the IRRS is the dimension of forgiveness. This dimension measures the characteristics associated with forgiveness in relational violation as reflected in the four subscales. The four subscales that comprise the dimension of forgiveness are insight, understanding, giving the opportunity for compensation, and overt acts of forgiving (Hargrave & Sells, 1997). Hargrave and Sells performed a Cronbach's alpha analysis and reported strong reliability data for this instrument with the pain dimension reported as .95, and the dimension of forgiving reported as .92. Additionally, a Cronbach's alpha test showed high reliability for the eight subscales, ranging from .63 to .87. Additionally, concurrent and predictive validity tests were performed on the IRRS with positive results. Overall, the IRRS has been shown to be a reliable and valid assessment instrument for use in assessing the manifestation of pain and the dimension of forgiveness as conceptualized by Hargrave and Sells. or ease of reference, a complete list of all variables considered in this study are presented in Table 1.

Procedures

Preliminary agreement to participate in this study was secured through contact by phone, mail, or e-mail as identified above. This included direct contact with participants and indirect contact with subjects. Direct contact with participants occurred when they responded to the researcher as a result of Internet postings, newspaper ads, flyers, self-help group postings, and other public solicitation methods. Indirect contact with participants occurred with subjects acquired through counselors and other mental health facilities willing to assist in this study. Prospective agencies were initially contacted by mail through a preliminary contact letter containing an overview of the study and a return form that allows the practitioner or agency to agree to involvement. After involvement was secured, a subsequent letter was sent to secure the estimated number of subjects that were to participate through the agency.

After a subject pool had been identified, packets containing informed consent forms, a brief description of the study, a postage-paid return envelope, and assessment instruments were distributed to subjects. These packets contained a reference number to ensure protection of subject anonymity.

Results

The four criterion variables of forgiveness and the predictor variables were considered separately in addressing the research question. Four stepwise regressions were performed to discover the relationship between the predictor and criterion variables.

The first hypothesis was that the childhood experience of sexual abuse, long-term effects of sexual abuse, and previous treatment will account for significant (p < .05) amounts of unique variance in the adult survivor's level of insight associated with forgiveness. The first hypothesis was confirmed. The TSC-40 subscale sexual problems, being shown the perpetrator's sex organ, and intercourse during the sexual abuse experience were found to significantly contribute to variance of insight ( p < .05). The model that emerged was as follows: 8.049 + (- .04291 x sexual problem total) + (- .54 x perpetrator showed sex organs) + (.456 x intercourse) = insight. This model accounted for approximately 14% of the variance in insight (adjusted R² = .137). The results are presented in Table 2.

The second hypothesis was that the childhood experience of sexual abuse, long-term effects of sexual abuse, and previous treatment will account for significant (p < .05) amounts of unique variance in the adult survivor's level of understanding associated with forgiveness. The age at which the abuse started, whether a survivor attended individual therapy, and the number of mental health experiences the survivor had were found to significantly contribute to predicting level of understanding ( p < .05). The confirmed the second hypothesis. The model that emerged was as follows: 5.372 + (.06337 x age started) + (2.124 x individual therapy) + (-.03728 x number of mental health experiences) = understanding. This model accounted for approximately 12% of the variance in understanding (adjusted R² = .121). The results are presented in Table 2.

The third hypothesis was that the childhood experience of sexual abuse, long-term effects of sexual abuse, and previous treatment will account for significant (p < .05) amounts of unique variance in the adult survivor's level of trust associated with trust. The third hypothesis was supported. The childhood experience of sexual abuse, long-term effects of sexual abuse, and previous treatment accounted for a statistically significant amount of unique variance associated with trust. Being kissed or fondled in a sexual way and being forced into the sexual abuse significantly contribute to predicting level of trust ( p < .05). The model that emerged was as follows: 14.282 + (-.933 x kissed or fondled in a sexual way) + (-.521 x forced) = trust. This model accounted for approximately 10% of the variance in trust (adjusted R² = .102). The results are presented in Table 2.

The fourth hypothesis was that the childhood experience of sexual abuse, long-term effects of sexual abuse, and previous treatment will account for significant (p < .05) amounts of unique variance in the adult survivor's level of overt acts of forgiving. As indicated in Table 2, the fourth hypothesis was confirmed. A statistically significant amount of unique variance in overt acts of forgiving was accounted for by the childhood experience of sexual abuse, long-term effects of sexual abuse, and previous treatment. More specifically, the age of the perpetrator and the use of threat were found to significantly contribute to predicting overt acts of forgiving ( p < .05). The model that emerged was as follows: 9.108 + (.318 x perpetrator age) + (- .568 x threat) = overt acts. This model accounted for approximately 8% of the variance in overt acts of forgiving (adjusted R² = .076). The results are presented in Table 2.

Discussion

The results from this study support previous research investigating sexual abuse survivors and forgiveness. For example, Freedman and Enright (1996), Holeman and Myers (1998), and Wilson (1994) found that inclusion of forgiveness concepts provided greater reduction in the long-term symptoms associated with the sexual abuse experience and improved overall functioning. There appears to be some general consistency in the usefulness of forgiveness strategies in the treatment of sexual abuse survivors.

Specifically, there were several findings in this study worth noting. First, childhood experiences of sexual abuse seem to influence the process of forgiveness. Of the 10 variables found to significantly affect forgiveness, eight were related to the childhood experience of sexual abuse. This would suggest that the conditions surrounding the sexual abuse experience are important considerations when addressing forgiveness for a sexual abuse survivor. More specifically, the ways in which the survivor was abused seems important to the process of forgiveness. G enerally, the more intrusive the sexual abuse experience the less forgiving the survivor is likely to be of the perpetrator.

However, this was not always the case. The experience of intercourse during the sexual abuse experience, the age of onset, and the age of the perpetrator were positively related to the work of forgiveness. Briere (1996a) notes that increases in traumatic experiences often exceed that survivor's internal resources and overwhelms the coping ability of the survivor. Further, intercourse during the sexual abuse experience, early onset of the sexual abuse, and the age of the perpetrator in relation to the survivor are more likely to exceed the internal resources and self-capacities of the survivor. The survivor is more likely to feel overwhelmed and experience a greater sense of injury when greater degrees of these factors are present. As a result, the survivor would be more likely to seek mental health care, thus promoting the healing process and ultimately lead to higher levels in the work of forgiveness.

The only aspect of forgiveness that seemed affected by treatment experience of the survivor was understanding. Understanding is fundamentally concerned with understanding the abuse condition in context versus the attribution of blame in an unreasonable degree (Hargrave, 1994). It includes elements of empathy or the ability to see the abuse experience through the eyes of the offender, ownership, and the releasing of emotional content related to the injurious experience. The natural process of treatment of sexual abuse survivors appears to promote the development of understanding. However, early experience of sexual abuse appears to influence the development of insight, trust, and overt expression of forgiving.

G iven that insight and understanding are both part of the process of exoneration (Hargrave & Sells, 1997), one would expect the treatment experiences of the survivors influence the development of both stations. However, only understanding appears to be influenced by therapy. Hargrave and Sells (1997) noted that understanding is an internal process that occurs within the context of the survivor's mind that is fundamentally concerned with responsibility and empathy. It does not include a relational component between the survivor and the perpetrator. Insight is also considered an internal process in which the survivor develops the ability to recognize patterns of relational damage (Hargrave, 1994). However, according to Hargrave insight also involves the ability to intervene in destructive relational patterns. Although exoneration is an internal, inward-oriented, intrapsychic process, insight requires the development and utilization of additional relational skills and strategies. Thus, insight employs more relational aspects than does understanding. This may account for the disparity in understanding being influenced by therapy and not insight.

Typical, treatment of sexual abuse survivors focuses a great deal on identification of patterns associated with the injury (Chew, 1998). If Hargrave's (1994) concept of insight were limited to the ability to observe negative relational patterns, then it could be presumed that therapy would influence the development of insight more thoroughly. In other words, therapy seems to affect exoneration as an internal, inward-oriented process. This is particularly important because it suggests that therapy may be useful in promoting the development of understanding and insight if insight were limited to the ability of the survivor to observe relational patterns.

Additionally, although the results of this study suggest that previous treatment may be a useful forum for promoting the work of forgiveness, it was limited to the aspects of exoneration as identified by Hargrave and Sells (1997). Previous treatment did not seem to influence the process of forgiving, the second station of the work of forgiveness. The giving of opportunities for compensation and overt acts of forgiving were not influenced by previous therapy histories of the participants. It is possible that the relational aspects of forgiveness are not useful in the treatment of sexual abuse survivors. The restoration of the injured relationship may not provide any real benefit or may even negate growth of the survivor. However, this would suggest that Hargrave's (1994) understanding of forgiveness as necessarily including a relational aspect may not be as useful to survivors or that survivors do not, cannot, or will not enter into the later stations of the work of forgiveness.

The lack of influence on relationally oriented aspects of forgiving may be related to aspects in treatment approaches used with sexual abuse survivors. Sexual abuse survivor treatment tends to emphasize interventions that promote empowerment, symptom reduction, improvement in self-capacities, reduction in shame, and personal growth (Bass & Davis, 1988, 1994; Briere, 1992; Courtois, 1991). In other words, current therapies are inward oriented and intrapsychic in nature. As a result, insight, understanding, and other inward-oriented aspects of forgiveness are being promoted therapeutically. However, relational restoration, giving opportunities for compensation or trust, and overt acts of forgiving are not being promoted in the current sexual abuse treatment approaches. This makes it difficult to discern how treatment may influence the work of forgiveness on a relational level. More controlled study, designed to isolate the interpersonal aspects of forgiveness, would help to clarify if and how the relational aspects of forgiveness may be useful in the treatment of sexual abuse survivors.

G enerally, forgiveness seems to promote more effective living, reductions in long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse, improved well-being, improved marital satisfaction, and improved relational skills (Freedman & Enright, 1996; Holeman, 1994; Holeman & Myers, 1998; Wilson, 1994). Forgiveness can be a positive aspect in treating sexual abuse survivors, and therapy can influence the process of forgiveness for sexual abuse survivors. This study revealed that therapy does influence the forgiveness process and promotes the development of understanding. In short, the more therapy a survivor has, the greater involvement in the work of forgiveness. This study further revealed that early experiences of sexual abuse and greater levels of pain seem to contribute a great deal to the development of forgiveness. Generally, the greater the intrusion and hurt the survivor has experienced the more difficulty it is for the survivor to develop forgiveness.

Forgiveness has been a topic reluctantly considered by sexual abuse theorists. The general claim is that forgiveness is hazardous and may cause further injury to the survivor (Bass & Davis, 1988; Courtois, 1988, 1991). Others simply ignore the concept of forgiveness altogether (Lew, 1990). However, the results from this study and other similar studies suggest that forgiveness may offer some utility in the treatment of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Therapists may be able to include the work of forgiveness in the therapeutic process, work more intentionally toward promoting forgiveness, and improve the overall treatment of sexual abuse survivors. More research is needed to clarify when, how, and with whom forgiveness strategies may be used to promote healing and improved quality of life for the adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

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Table 1

Variable Used in Stepwise Multiple Regression


Predictor Variables

Criterion Variables


Demographic

1) Age

2) G ender

3) Marital status

4) Race

Previous treatment history

1) Duration

2) Number of mental health experiences

3) Type of treatment

4) Was sexual abuse discussed

Childhood Sexual-abuse-related-factors: Childhood Experience Inventory (CEI)

1) Number of perpetrators

2) Type of abuse

3) Relation to the victim

4) G ender of the perpetrator

5) Age of perpetrator in relation to the survivor Childhood Sexual-abuse-related-factors: Childhood Experience Inventory (CEI)

6) Age of victim at onset

7) Age of victim at termination

8) Frequency of abuse

9) Use of threat

10) Use of force

11) Perceived victimization

Long-term effects of sexual trauma;

Trauma Symptom Checklist - 40 (TSC - 40)

1) Anxiety

2) Depression

3) Dissociation

4) Sexual Abuse Trauma Index

5) Sexual problems

6) Sleep disturbance

Forgiveness factors; Interpersonal Relationship Resolution Scale (IRRS)

Forgiveness scale

1) Insight

2) Understanding

3) G iving the opportunity for compensation

4) The overt act of forgiving

 


Table 2

Stepwise Regression Predicting the Work of Forgiveness


Analysis

Independent Variable

Adjusted R² *

B

SE

t

Sig.


Criterion 1:

Insight

 

.137

 

 

 

 

 

Sexual Problems

 

-.04291

.014

-3.164

.002

 

Perpetrator Showed Sex Organs

 

-.54

.171

-3.153

.002

 

Intercourse

 

.456

.202

2.258

.026

 

Constant

 

8.049

.349

23.06

.000

Criterion 2:

Understanding

 

.121

 

 

 

 

 

Age Started

 

.06337

.259

2.916

.004

 

Individual Therapy

 

2.124

.215

2.413

.017

 

Number of Mental Health Experiences

 

-.03728

.018

-2.073

.041

 

Constant

 

5.372

.918

5.85

.000

Criterion 3:

Trust

 

.102

 

 

 

 

 

Kissed or Fondled in a Sexual Way

 

-.933

.317

-2.940

.004

 

Forced

 

-.521

.244

-2.138

.035

 

Constant

 

14.282

.499

28.605

.000

Criterion 4:

Overt Acts of Forgiveness

 

.076

 

 

 

 

 

Perpetrator Age

 

.318

.120

2.642

.009

 

Threat

 

-.568

.239

-2.374

.019

 

Constant

 

9.108

.553

16.460

.000

Note. *p< .05