The Psychological Impact of Child Sexual Abuse on Primary Caregivers

  • W Zimba Department of Psychology, University of Zambia, Zambia.
  • J A Menon Department of Psychology, University of Zambia, Zambia
  • K Thankian Department of Gender Studies, University of Zambia, Zambia
  • S OC Mwaba Department of Gender Studies, University of Zambia, Zambia
Keywords: Psychological Impact, Primary Caregivers, Child Sexual Abuse


Research on child sexual abuse (CSA) suggests that support and protection from the caregiver provide the child an effective platform for quick recovery and improvement in mental health and social functioning.  Nonetheless, not all caregivers are supportive of survivors; recent research findings, instead, show that incidents of CSA have debilitating psychological impact on survivors’ caregivers which impair their functioning. This study explored whether a systematic link exists between an incident of CSA and psychological changes in caregivers, thereby justifying their psychological care. The objectives of the study were to 1) explore if a relationship exists between an incident of CSA and changes in mental health of primary caregivers of abused children and 2) identify symptoms of the psychological impact of CSA on primary caregivers of abused children.

Participants in the study were 34 caregivers of CSA survivors from at Victim Support Unit (VSU), Young Women’s Christians Association (YWCA) and/or University Teaching Hospital (UTH), Lusaka. Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) and a semi-structured interview schedule were used for data collection. Overall PSS scores indicated that an incident of CSA results in a debilitating psychological impact on caregivers of the survivors, there were. Significant difference in the levels of perceived stress experienced by maternal caregivers (Mean rank = 19.38, n = 29) and paternal ones (Mean rank = 6.60, n = 5): z = - 2.66, p < .01).

Symptoms of psychological distress experienced by caregivers after an incident of CSA included anxiety, fear, depression, anger, insomnia, and functional impairment. About half the care givers in the study (n= 19, 55.88%) showed support and protection for their children; others (n = 15, 44.12%) were hostile toward and blamed their children for the abuse.The caregivers therefore may need psychological services to improve their mental health and provide support to their children.


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