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Childhood Sexual Abuse in Incarcerated Females: Complex Trauma Symptomotology and the Personality Assessment Inventory

23 July 2010


There is a dearth of literature examining how childhood sexual abuse (CSA) influences the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI; Morey, 1991) profiles of incarcerated women. This study examines the relationship between CSA, substance abuse, and Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) symptomatology on the PAI in an incarcerated female sample. It was hypothesized that women with CSA would have higher overall levels of psychopathology as well as higher levels of symptoms consistent with CPTSD and substance dependence compared to women without histories of CSA. A sample of 78 incarcerated women who had been administered the PAI upon intake were recruited from a northwestern multi-custody state prison. Women with CSA (n = 42) were compared to women without histories of CSA (n= 36) on the PAI and various mental health and substance abuse characteristics. Women in the CSA group were found to have higher levels of overall psychopathology, higher levels of symptoms associated with CPTSD, and increased prevalence of PTSD symptoms. Women with CSA also reported greater severity of drug use and more frequent use of cannabis, stimulants, and heroin. A medium, positive correlation was found between PTSD symptom severity and drug use severity. Women with CSA were also found to have significantly higher rates of mental health care utilization prior to prison in addition to higher rates of mental health care utilization in prison. Further, women in the CSA group were also found to have had initiated substance use at a younger age and to have had higher rates of maternal substance abuse during their childhood. Implications of these findings and future directions for research are discussed.


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