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Professionals' expectancies related to child and adolescent sexual abuse: An investigation of *labeling effects

Gabriel Holguin, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Labeling, and the potential negative effects of labeling, have been extensively researched in the psychological literature in a variety of different contexts. For example, labeling has been empirically shown to lead to lowered expectancies of behavior and achievement, which can then contribute to the potential for the occurrence of a self-fulfilling prophecy with adverse consequences. Another area that has been extensively researched, with a dramatic increase in the literature base in recent history, is that of child sexual abuse (CSA). Despite the various shortcomings of the research literature, the consistent findings have been identification of a variety of negative correlates and symptomatologies associated with CSA. In addition to any direct, negative effects of CSA, there may also be an additional impact from the “sexual abuse” label itself. Although the literature pertaining to CSA and labeling runs deep independently, efforts at addressing the issue of CSA within a labeling contextual framework have been minimal. To that end, the primary purpose of this study was to examine the expectancies for sexually abused children held by professionals (e.g., mental health professionals, law enforcement investigators, physicians, CPS workers, attorneys, judges) who work in the CSA field. ^ The study examined and compared the professionals' expectations of future functioning across a variety of domains (e.g., emotional, behavioral, psychological, academic) for children and adolescents labeled as either sexually abused, parents going through a divorce, or as losing sleep. Vignette methodology was employed in order to keep information presented about the child or adolescent constant, with the exception of the aforementioned stressor labels. Overall, the results suggested that the sexual abuse label negatively impacted the expectations for children labeled as such as held by professionals who work in the CSA field. Specifically, the abused children and adolescents were expected to have greater difficulty in the areas of academic functioning (e.g., school performance, motivation), emotional functioning (e.g., anger, sadness, or depression; fear, nervousness, or anxiety; self-confidence), behavioral functioning (e.g., following rules at home and at school, fighting with other children/adolescents, ignoring teachers and parents, criminal behaviors), interpersonal/social functioning (e.g., participating in extracurricular activities with other children/adolescents, spending time with family members, making new friends, getting along with family and friends, ability to communicate feelings), and risk taking behaviors (e.g., alcohol use, drug use, voluntary sexual activity). The implications of an analysis which addresses and sheds light on childhood sexual abuse from such a theoretical framework may be a broader and more holistic understanding of the complexities and sequalae associated with CSA. ^

Subject Area

Health Sciences, Mental Health

Recommended Citation

Holguin, Gabriel, "Professionals' expectancies related to child and adolescent sexual abuse: An investigation of *labeling effects" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3059946.