A prospective study of memory for child sexual abuse: new findings relevant to the repressed-memory controversy

Psychol Sci. 2003 Mar;14(2):113-8. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.01428.


Previous research indicates that many adults (nearly 40%) fail to report their own documented child sexual abuse (CSA) when asked about their childhood experiences. These controversial results could reflect lack of consciously accessible recollection, thus bolstering claims that traumatic memories may be repressed. In the present study, 175 individuals with documented CSA histories were interviewed regarding their childhood trauma. Unlike in previous studies, the majority of participants (81%) in our study reported the documented abuse. Older age when the abuse ended, maternal support following disclosure of the abuse, and more severe abuse were associated with an increased likelihood of disclosure. Ethnicity and dissociation also played a role. Failure to report CSA should not necessarily be interpreted as evidence that the abuse is inaccessible to memory, although inaccessibility or forgetting cannot be ruled out in a subset of cases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / diagnosis
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dissociative Disorders / diagnosis
  • Dissociative Disorders / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Repression, Psychology*
  • Self Disclosure
  • Social Support