Psychological impact of child sexual abuse on primary caregivers in Lusaka, Zambia
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Many previous researchers on child sexual abuse (CSA) found that support and protec-tion from the caregiver provide the child an effective platform for quick recovery and improvement in mental health and social functioning (Lovett, 2004). 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 parental functioning (Bolan & Lamb, 2004; Manion et al, 1996). There is a suggestion that, to improve their own mental health and enhance their parental func-tioning, such caregivers be exposed to psychological care. Such a justification need to be informed by empirical evidence. This study explored whether a systematic link exists between an incident of CSA and psychological changes in caregivers, thereby justifying their psychological care.Participants in the study were 34 caregivers of CSA survivors who brought their cases to Victim Support Unit (VSU), Young Women’s Christians Association (YWCA) and/or Uni-versity Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka. Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) and a semi-structured interview schedule formed the key instruments of data collection. Nonpar-ametric Kruskal-Wallis Test, Mann-Whitney U Test and Chi-Square Test for Independ-ence were applied to measure various relationships in the data as explained below. Thematic analyses were conducted on caregivers’ narratives which formed the core qualitative data. Overall PSS scores indicated that an incident of CSA results in a debilitating psychologi-cal impact on caregivers of the survivors. Further, a Mann-Whitney U test gave a statis-tically 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). Maternal caregivers reported greater overall distress than paternal ones. The Kruskal_Wallis Test showed no significant relationship between PSS scores and survivors’ demographic variables measured in the Study.Thematic analyses of narratives showed that some caregivers were supportive and pro-tective of their children; others were angry with them. The difference appeared to be explained by a number of socio-demographic and abuse related factors: age, schooling, type of abuse, number of incidents of CSA and injuries sustained. A Chi-Square Test showed a significant link between these factors and caregivers’ level of support for their children (See Table 10). Perceived powerlessness of the survivor in the abuse pro-cess represented by young age, once-off sexual intercourse, perpetrator’s use of force and injuries was linked to high levels of caregiver’s support. Caregivers’ hostility toward the survivor was linked to child’s old age, school enrollment, elopement, absence of use of force, high number of episodes of CSA and lack of injuries.It was found that caregivers’ level of support for their children also affected what care-givers considered to be appropriate intervention for them: those who supported their nchildren focused on their health; unsupportive caregivers focused on their children’s behavioral correction. Going by these findings, it is recommended that, to improve their own mental health and strengthen their parental functioning, caregivers of CSA survivors require psycho-therapy.