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Child-Maltreatment-Research-L (CMRL) List Serve

Database of Past CMRL Messages

Welcome to the database of past Child-Maltreatment-Research-L (CMRL) list serve messages. The table below contains all past CMRL messages (text only, no attachments) from Nov. 20, 1996 - March 6, 2018 and is updated quarterly.

Instructions: Postings are listed for browsing with the newest messages first. Click on the linked ID number to see a message. You can search the author, subject, message ID, and message content fields by entering your criteria into this search box:

Message ID: 8471
Date: 2010-05-07

Author:Chaffin, Mark J. (HSC)

Subject:RE: List of indicators of child sexual abuse

Lisa, A brief history of indicators and why there isn't much research action in this area, or at least my own interpretation of this: There is a fairly old article by Conte and Berliner (close to 20 years old at this point) that addresses the indicators approach as a whole. You've probably seen it. In the 80's and early 90's, the field was very interested in coming up with a set of indicators (aka "red flags") that would identify hidden CSA cases. The whole idea that CSA is more often than other maltreatment types to be secret and hidden preoccupied the field for years. The problem, as we learned in hard lessons later, was that specificity of the signs and symptoms purported to indicate CSA was often very poor, and sensitivity sometimes wasn't too great either. The search for indicators hasn't been pursued in the research literature very much since those days. There are a some fairly self-evident indicators. STD's in young children is a pretty good indicator. So is physical evidence (e.g. finding suspicious bodily fluids, finding video tapes of the abuse, etc.). A spontaneous verbal statement of abuse by the child is a pretty good indicator. Atypical sexual behavior at least suggests that things need to be inquired into. Off the top of my head, that's about the end of the list of ones with decent specificity, but their sensitivity is poor. The more sensitive indirect or subtle indicators that people often want have mostly turned out to be a bust. A whole slew of purported indicators from the 80's and early 90's have long since been abandoned--depression, nightmares, wearing too much clothing, wearing not enough clothing, fear of men, over-friendliness with men, drawing knot-holes in trees, drawing long fingers on figures, eating disorders, etc. etc. etc. The obvious problem with the whole subtle indicators idea is that experiencing CSA is not and never was a syndrome or a disease, but rather a diverse set of life events which are experienced very differently by different individuals and occasion correspondingly individualized responses. Not only are the events and individuals themselves diverse, but so are the cultural contexts in which they occur (as you have so eloquently described in your books!). There really is no profile for a child who has experienced CSA. That and the fact that most of these indicators have many other possible causes. Unlike profiles or syndromes, life experiences don't diagnose very well with indicators. Of course, every time you do an in-service for CASA's, or teachers, etc. they first question they want answered is "what are the signs that a child is being sexually abused?" In the old Conte and Berliner article, the alternative approach they recommended was to focus more on the procedures and competencies of CSA investigations rather than indictors or signs. To that I would add creating a cultural or environmental context where children who are being abused feel comfortable to come forward, which is the tack I usually take when asked about how to identify hidden CSA. Mark -----Original Message----- From: Eric G. Mart [mailto:emart@comcast.net] Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2010 12:48 PM Subject: Re: List of indicators of child sexual abuse Lisa, I'd take a look at Freidrich's work and the his instrument, the Child Sexual Behavior Inventory. Unfortunately, there are only a few behaviors that are seen in vistims of CSA which are not seen with some frequency in the non-CSA clinical sample, and then there is the base rate problem. Eric G. Mart, Ph.D., ABPP (Forensic) 311 Highlander Way Manchester, New Hampshire 03103 Ph. 603/626-0966 Fax 603/622-7012 www.psychology-law.com ----- Original Message ----- From: To: ; "ispcan list" Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2010 1:32 PM Subject: List of indicators of child sexual abuse > Does anyone have a link to a recent research-based list of indicators of a > history of CSA in children? > > many thanks! > > Lisa Fontes, Ph.D. > University of Massachusetts > Amherst, USA >

Lisa, A brief history of indicators and why there isn't much research action in this area, or at least my own interpretation of this: There is a fairly old article by Conte and Berliner (close to 20 years old at this point) that addresses the indicators approach as a whole. You've probably seen it. In the 80's and early 90's, the field was very interested in coming up with a set of indicators (aka "red flags") that would identify hidden CSA cases. The whole idea that CSA is more often than other maltreatment types to be secret and hidden preoccupied the field for years. The problem, as we learned in hard lessons later, was that specificity of the signs and symptoms purported to indicate CSA was often very poor, and sensitivity sometimes wasn't too great either. The search for indicators hasn't been pursued in the research literature very much since those days. There are a some fairly self-evident indicators. STD's in young children is a pretty good indicator. So is physical evidence (e.g. finding suspicious bodily fluids, finding video tapes of the abuse, etc.). A spontaneous verbal statement of abuse by the child is a pretty good indicator. Atypical sexual behavior at least suggests that things need to be inquired into. Off the top of my head, that's about the end of the list of ones with decent specificity, but their sensitivity is poor. The more sensitive indirect or subtle indicators that people often want have mostly turned out to be a bust. A whole slew of purported indicators from the 80's and early 90's have long since been abandoned--depression, nightmares, wearing too much clothing, wearing not enough clothing, fear of men, over-friendliness with men, drawing knot-holes in trees, drawing long fingers on figures, eating disorders, etc. etc. etc. The obvious problem with the whole subtle indicators idea is that experiencing CSA is not and never was a syndrome or a disease, but rather a diverse set of life events which are experienced very differently by different individuals and occasion correspondingly individualized responses. Not only are the events and individuals themselves diverse, but so are the cultural contexts in which they occur (as you have so eloquently described in your books!). There really is no profile for a child who has experienced CSA. That and the fact that most of these indicators have many other possible causes. Unlike profiles or syndromes, life experiences don't diagnose very well with indicators. Of course, every time you do an in-service for CASA's, or teachers, etc. they first question they want answered is "what are the signs that a child is being sexually abused?" In the old Conte and Berliner article, the alternative approach they recommended was to focus more on the procedures and competencies of CSA investigations rather than indictors or signs. To that I would add creating a cultural or environmental context where children who are being abused feel comfortable to come forward, which is the tack I usually take when asked about how to identify hidden CSA. Mark -----Original Message----- From: Eric G. Mart [mailto:emartcomcast.net] Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2010 12:48 PM Subject: Re: List of indicators of child sexual abuse Lisa, I'd take a look at Freidrich's work and the his instrument, the Child Sexual Behavior Inventory. Unfortunately, there are only a few behaviors that are seen in vistims of CSA which are not seen with some frequency in the non-CSA clinical sample, and then there is the base rate problem. Eric G. Mart, Ph.D., ABPP (Forensic) 311 Highlander Way Manchester, New Hampshire 03103 Ph. 603/626-0966 Fax 603/622-7012 www.psychology-law.com ----- Original Message ----- From: To: ; "ispcan list" Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2010 1:32 PM Subject: List of indicators of child sexual abuse > Does anyone have a link to a recent research-based list of indicators of a > history of CSA in children? > > many thanks! > > Lisa Fontes, Ph.D. > University of Massachusetts > Amherst, USA >