Is sexual abuse in earlier life a risk for older women's mental health? An investigation, including of risk and protective factors.

Melissa Sands (). Is sexual abuse in earlier life a risk for older women's mental health? An investigation, including of risk and protective factors. Professional Doctorate, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Melissa Sands
Thesis Title Is sexual abuse in earlier life a risk for older women's mental health? An investigation, including of risk and protective factors.
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Thesis type Professional Doctorate
Supervisor Nancy Pachana
Gerard Byrne
Total pages 167
Abstract/Summary Abstract Background: Incidents, correlates and outcomes of lifetime sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact have rarely been investigated in older women. This is despite the fact that it is well known that very high rates of females experience such incidents throughout childhood and well into mid adulthood, along with a range of serious aversive consequences. Older women’s sexuality, generally, has received a limited degree of attention in the literature, and much remains unknown about the sexual experiences of women in older age. Both normal sexuality and forms of unwanted sexual contact in older women are likely to have been ignored in the literature previously, due to the general societal view that equates aging women with asexuality. This study reviewed the literature in these areas and undertook to explore the risk of aversive outcomes for older women who reported a lifetime history of sexual abuse, as well as any protective factors, particularly those relating to disposition (e.g., optimism, self-efficacy, self-esteem, internal locus of control) and social support. Method: Community-dwelling participants (N = 474; age range 44 to 83 in 2004), were drawn from the Longitudinal Assessment of Women (LAW) study, and in 2004, participated in an interview about their sexual abuse history. Further data was collected through a combination of mailed questionnaires (in 2004, 2007 and 2008), and a personal clinical interview conducted by a physician in 2008. Results: A history of sexual abuse was reported by 27.49% of women, with most incidents occurring in childhood. Women’s reports of lifetime sexual abuse declined with age. In 2008, 10.85% of the total remaining sample had a clinical psychiatric diagnosis. Hierarchical logistic regression analyses demonstrated that psychopathology was predicted from a history of sexual abuse (with an Odds Ratio of 2.39), after taking into account the predictive effects of neuroticism (with an Odds Ratio of 2.32) and other factors (e.g. demographic). Participants reporting sexual abuse were more likely to have lower perceived social support and to be higher on the personality factor openness, though they did not differ on dispositional features. Dispositional factors also did not predict a reduced risk of psychopathology. In 2008 when the clinical interview was conducted, missing participants (comprising 20.3% of the original sample) were noted to have had lower scores on income, education, agreeableness, self-efficacy and internal locus of control. Conclusions: Sexual abuse, even occurring much earlier in life, appears to place older women at greater risk of psychopathology and is associated with reduced perceived social support. Dispositional factors may not always be affected by sexual abuse, or otherwise, may recover with time. Older women may be at particular risk from effects of sexual abuse, due to competing social messages received about sexuality. Women may desire the ability to express sexuality in a changed and more affectionate way as they age, which may conflict with social and medical messages transmitted to older men, raising issues of consent and common goals with respect to intimacy.
Keyword Women
unwanted sexual contact
sexual assault

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Created: Wed, 19 Oct 2011, 19:42:38 EST by Melissa Sands on behalf of Faculty of Social & Behavioural Sciences