The interaction between unwanted sexual experiences during childhood and an adolescent’s psychological well-being, use of substances and involvement in high-risk sexual behaviour was explored in this study. Unwanted childhood sexual experiences, such as sexual abuse, are major societal concerns and have been widely researched. However, much of the research was done using individuals presenting for help with the effects of this trauma. This excludes those individuals who experienced sexual abuse, but did not suffer any visible consequences as a result. Previous research therefore presents half a picture. South African literature on this phenomenon is also limited. As a result, this study looks at childhood sexual abuse or unwanted childhood sexual experiences within a South African context using a sample from the general population in order to obtain a more accurate picture. The Cognitive Behavioural Theory and the Theory of Reasoned Action will be used to attempt to explain how exposure to unwanted sexual experiences may contribute to certain psychological, emotional and behavioural outcomes. The Cognitive Behavioural Theory postulates that there is a relationship between an individual’s thoughts or cognitions and their emotions and behaviour. Cognitions are formed through the individual’s previous experiences and are the basis upon which the individual will act in future experiences. The Theory of Reasoned Action states that it is not only one’s own attitudes and beliefs that influence one’s behaviour, but also the perceived attitudes of others around oneself. By incorporating these two theories into the study, one can hypothesise why, and how, certain effects may or may not result in sexually abused individuals. From previous research, it can be concluded that childhood sexual abuse can lead to poor psychological well-being, increased participation in the use/abuse of substances and increased involvement in high-risk sexual behaviour. By using a general sample of the population (a sample that includes both sexually abused and non-sexually abused individuals) this study attempted to investigate interactions between these four variables and explore factors that interfere with or promote the relationship between these variables. It appears that there is, in fact, an interaction between the four variables. There is a positive relationship between unwanted sexual experience and adolescent substance-use behaviour, specifically drug abuse and between unwanted sexual experience and adolescent high-risk sexual behaviour. No relationship was found between unwanted sexual experience and psychological well-being. If and how these variables interact is dependent on the specific individual. It is problematic to assume that each individual reacts to a trauma, such as unwanted sex, in the same way. Other factors, such as the details around the abuse as well as the previous experiences and functioning of the child, need to be considered.
Dissertation (MA (Clinical Psychology))--University of Pretoria, 2007.