Beyond fight, flight, and freeze: Towards a new conceptualization of peritraumatic responses to child sexual abuse based on retrospective accounts of adult survivors

Carmit Katz, Noga Tsur, Anat Talmon, Racheli Nicolet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Child sexual abuse (CSA) studies have greatly contributed to theory, policy, and practice worldwide. Surprisingly, although trauma studies in particular have highlighted the importance of peritraumatic responses to trauma, this aspect is underdeveloped in the context of child abuse studies. Objective: The current study profiles the peritraumatic responses of children to abuse, based on adults’ retrospective accounts of their childhood experiences. Participants & methods: 180 adults who retrospectively reported having been sexually abused in childhood completed a questionnaire that included four categories of common peritraumatic responses to CSA: automatic, behavioral, cognitive and affective. Results: Latent class analysis revealed a number of classes in each of the questionnaire's four categories. Within each, classes were identified and the relationships within and between them, as well as with abuse characteristics were explored. Conclusions: Existing theory with respect to peritraumatic responses to trauma, and to CSA in particular, should be reconsidered based on the multifaceted model proposed in the current study. The findings point to a previously unrecognized peritraumatic response to trauma: numbness and seeking ways to survive ongoing abuse. Finally, recommendations are provided for incorporating the current model in both prevention and intervention efforts in the CSA field.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104905
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Volume112
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Keywords

  • Child sexual abuse (CSA)
  • Dissociation
  • Fight-flight-freeze response
  • Numbness
  • Peritraumatic responses
  • Surviving
  • Trauma

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