Sexual Abuse in Women

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CLINICAL RESEARCH

Sexual Abuse and Subsequent Suicidal Behaviour: Exacerbating Factors and Implications for Recovery Cate Curtis

ABSTRACT. Suicidal behaviour is a cause for concern among many western countries; in general, it is most common among young women. This research used qualitative methods to explore the narratives of 24 Cate Curtis, PhD, lectures in psychology at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. She is interested in female self-harming behaviour, including self-mutilation and suicidal behaviour; social factors implicated both in engaging in self-harm and in recovery, particularly the roles played by family and friends; and barriers to help-seeking behaviour such as stigma. She is also interested in the ways people diagnosable with mental illness make sense of their experiences of being “unwell” and their experiences as consumers of mental health services. Cate has also worked in a number of social service agencies as a youth and community worker. Address correspondence to: Cate Curtis, PhD, Psychology Department, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, New Zealand (Email: ccurtis@waikatoc.nz). The author wishes to thank the participants who candidly shared their experiences of suicidal behaviour and sexual abuse, and hopes that the opportunity to have their voices heard through this paper goes some way to repay their contribution. This research was supported by funding from the Foundation for Research, Science & Technology and the University of Waikato. Submitted for publication 11/10/04; revised 03/18/05; accepted 03/20/05. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, Vol. 15(2) 2006 Available online at http://www.haworthpress.com/web/JCSA  2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1300/J070v15n02_01

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JOURNAL OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

women, to contextualise their insights, and to examine the meanings of events leading to and implicated in the recovery from suicidal behaviour. The research confirms sexual abuse as a common precursor to suicidal behaviour; several women asserted that they would not have attempted suicide if they did not have a sexual abuse history. The women noted that the effects of sexual abuse were exacerbated by problems with disclosure, linking to issues of control, with implications for intervention and recovery. [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: Website: © 2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]

KEYWORDS. Sexual abuse, suicidal behaviour, adolescent mental health, intervention

Barriers to early death are increasingly strengthened through advances in medical science; we are more aware of the causes of premature death than ever before. Yet some young people continue to attempt (and in some cases succeed) to take their own lives. Internationally, adolescents and young adults are at greater risk of suicidal behaviour than other age groups (Gould et al., 1998; Romans, Martin, Anderson, Herbison, & Mullen, 1995), and while males complete suicide at higher rates than females, rates of suicidal behaviour in general are considerably higher for females (Ministry of Youth Affairs, Ministry of Health, & Te Puni Kokiri, 1998). Examinations of risk factors for suicidal behaviour have largely been quantitative in nature, seeking to determine correlations. Also, the majority of studies have been conducted with clinical populations. The research discussed in this paper attempts to address these possible methodological issues through the use of qualitative methods with a community sample. The paper discusses the experiences of women who engaged in suicidal behaviour while under the age of 25 through their first-hand accounts. Of particular interest is the relationship between sexual abuse and subsequent suicidal behaviour, and how sexual abuse impacts upon help-seeking behaviour and the efficacy of interventions for suicidal behaviour. Adults who have been victims of...
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