Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

November 2003


Published in Aggression and Violent Behavior 8:6 (November-December 2003), pp. 645–670. doi:10.1016/S1359-1789(02)00101-5 Copyright © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. Used by permission.


Labeling and the 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 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 “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, this article examines hypothesized mechanisms of how the “sexual abuse” label may potentially have an adverse influence on the children subjected to such a label. The implications of an analysis, which addresses childhood sexual abuse from such a theoretical framework, may be a broader and more holistic understanding of the complexities and sequelae associated with CSA.