A LIFESPAN APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING THE EFFECTS OF CLERGY SEXUAL ABUSE ON SELF-IDENTITY FOR MALE SURVIVORS by S.D. Easton , D. Leone-Sheehan , & P. O'Leary

https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/55/Suppl_2/520/2488237

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Background/purpose: Being sexually abused by a member of the clergy can dramatically undermine the health trajectory of a survivor across the lifespan. Using life course perspective and theories of identity development, this study addressed the following research question: What are the perceived negative effects of clergy sexual abuse on the self-identity of adult survivors? Methods: This secondary analysis was based on qualitative data collected during the 2010 Health and Well-being Survey, an anonymous, online survey of male survivors of sexual abuse. Three national survivor organizations (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, MaleSurvivor, 1in6.org) assisted with recruitment. Participants provided narrative, open-ended responses describing how the sexual abuse impacted their self-identity. The final sample consisted of 187 male clergy abuse survivors with a mean age of 50.9 (range = 23 – 84 years). Conventional content analysis was used to analyze the data over a one year period. Results: Clergy sexual abuse negatively impacted five major aspects of the participants’ self-identity: psychological self, gendered self, social self, spiritual self, and total or overall self. All domains (except spirituality) contained subthemes. For example, the psychological self included mental health, self-harming behaviors, and low self-esteem. Nearly half of participants (48.9%) reported that more than one domain was undermined. Conclusion and Implications: Clergy sexual abuse threatens different components of survivor identities and can have a stunting or disintegrating effect on overall identity. Clinicians working with older survivors should assess and treat multiple effects of clergy sexual abuse (e.g., impaired spirituality, compromised masculine identity, disconnection to others).

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