Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Rhiannon Smith, Juliane Fenster

Field of Study



Master of Arts

Open Access

Open Access


Almost a quarter of women experience some kind of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Although CSA is associated with subsequent difficulties in women’s sexual well-being and parenting, few studies have examined whether maternal CSA history impacts how parents navigate the sexual development of their children. Using a cross-sectional sample of 194 low-income adolescents girls (Mean age = 15.4), the goal of this study was to: 1) test whether maternal CSA is predictive of adolescent sexual risk behaviors (SRBs), and 2) identify parenting/family characteristics (sexual communication, sexual beliefs, parental monitoring and autonomy granting, and mother-daughter relationship quality) that may mediate this relationship. Maternal CSA history was not directly related to adolescent SRBs, but was predictive of a number of parenting/family characteristics related to SRBs. In families with maternal CSA, daughters reported more frequent and less embarrassing communication, endorsed more open beliefs about sex, perceived more of their peers as sexually active, and felt more autonomy in making decisions about dating. Mothers with a CSA history perceived their daughters as more embarrassed talking about sex and reported less monitoring of their daughters activities. Maternal CSA history was indirectly related to SRBs through several of these characteristics. Although the magnitude of most effects was small, these differences may become more pronounced as girls grow older and engage in a broader range of sexual activity. The findings suggest that maternal CSA may have intergenerational effects on sexual development that should be considered in interventions aimed at promoting adolescent sexual health.

Major Advisor

Stephanie Milan