The Impact of Child Sexual Abuse on Moral Development: Childhood Victimization and Moral Foundations Theory

Open Access
Fisher, Brenna
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Eric Silver, Thesis Supervisor
  • Stacy Silver, Honors Advisor
  • Child Sexual Abuse
  • Moral Foundations Theory
  • Criminology
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Morality
This thesis examines the effects of childhood sexual abuse on moral development using data from 9,113 Icelandic students between the ages of 16 and 19. While controlling for age, gender, and parent's education, this thesis compares students who were sexually abused prior to age 16 to those who were not on all five of the moral foundations, as described in Jonathan Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory: Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Purity. Results show that Loyalty, Authority, and Purity, the binding foundations, are all negatively affected by sexual abuse as a child, whereas Care and Fairness, the individualizing foundations, are not affected. Specifically, victims of sexual abuse exhibit lower scores on all three binding foundations, which may adversely affect their social cohesion in groups and reintegration into society in the aftermath of the trauma of sexual abuse.