Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Psychology - Faculty of Health & Behavioural Sciences


This research aimed to explore women’s meanings and emotions associated with

disclosing childhood sexual assault within close relationships and their current life experiences. A personal construct model of the disclosure process was examined, which proposed that disclosing childhood sexual assault will impact on women’s meaning making, their willingness to tell, and their close relationships.

Participants were twenty eight women between 20 and 60 years of age drawn

from those accessing counselling or support groups. Twenty three women completed a questionnaire, provided narratives about their current life experiences and an important

disclosure experience, and the Social Support Questionnaire (Sarason, Levine, Basham and Sarason, 1983). Eight women from a Survivors Support Group participated in a discussion about their disclosure experiences.

Meanings women associated with their disclosure and current life experiences

were identified in individual narratives and the Support Group transcript. The emotional content of women’s narratives was examined using a qualitative approach and the content analysis scales of Anxiety, Hostility Directed Outward, Hostility Directed Inward, Ambivalent Hostility, Depression, Hope and Human Relations (Gottschalk and Bechtel, 2002), Positive Affect and Sociality (Viney, Caputi and Webster, 2000).

Women’s recollections of their disclosure experiences and current life experiences contained meanings about self, others, self in relation to others and childhood sexual assault (supporting Hypothesis 1), evidence of invalidation, validation

and reconstruction (supporting Hypothesis 2), and evidence of both negative and

positive emotions (anger, hostility, anxiety, fear, mixed emotions, guilt, shame, sadness/depression, love, pleasant emotions, and relief) supporting Hypothesis 3. Hypothesis 4 proposing a relationship between the meanings women gave to their experiences and their emotions was also supported. Hypothesis 5 proposing a positive

correlation between women’s views of their current social networks and the emotions they experience was supported for positive emotions (these were positively associated with satisfying close relationships) but not for negative emotions.

The implications of the research findings for both clinical practice and the wider

community were explored. The application of the model to the broader community of people sexually assaulted as children was examined. Criticisms were made about the research, together with suggestions for future research.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.