A contextualized investigation of traumatic correlates of childhood sexual abuse in Australian athletes

Trisha Leahy, Grace Pretty, Gershon Tenenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


This study examined the traumatic sequelae associated with childhood sexual abuse from a contextualized perspective, taking into account childhood physical and psychological abuse experiences and adult trauma. Participants were 90 (45 men and 45 women) competitive athletes, purposefully selected to balance the distributions of sex and reported childhood sexual abuse across the sample. The study comprised a cross-sectional, retrospective investigation using well-established, standardized, self-report questionnaires and a semi-structured interview. Results revealed that, within the total sample, childhood sexual, physical, and psychological abuse were strongly correlated. Reported childhood psychological abuse was the primary unique correlate of current posttraumatic and dissociative symptomatology. Reported childhood sexual abuse and psychological abuse were uniquely correlated with posttraumatic and dissociative symptomatology in the male sample. The unique correlate in the female sample was childhood physical abuse. The study provides initial data that support recent work in the trauma field with non-athletes, indicating that contextualized, trauma-based assessment and intervention is an appropriate therapeutic approach when working with athlete-survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Specifically, the long-term traumatic sequelae associated with childhood sexual abuse need to be assessed and treated within a context that is sensitive to psychological abuse issues. Sex disaggregated analyses suggest that the social context of childhood sexual abuse may be qualitatively different for men and women. Implications for sport psychology practice, training, and research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)366-384
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Athletes
  • Childhod abuse
  • Gender
  • Trauma


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