Doctoral Dissertation
University of Oregon


Advisor Freyd, Jennifer J.

Dissertation Abstract

In testing the validity of betrayal trauma theory (Freyd, 1996) in Japan, this study contributes much needed empirical data about child abuse in that country, and about the role of culture on trauma outcomes. Anthropological reviews maintain that child abuse is widespread in Japan, while public opinion denies this assertion, and little empirical evidence exists from which conclusive information can be drawn. Betrayal trauma theory presents a theoretically grounded argument that abuse perpetrated by close others is particularly detrimental to psychological health because of the conflict that arises between the adaptiveness of maintaining attachment to the close other and otherwise instinctual responses (withdrawal and confrontation) to mistreatment. This betrayal effect has been found in the West but has yet to be tested in other cultures. Preliminary empirical evidence suggests that culture may moderate the psychological outcome of child abuse (e.g., Deater-Deckard, Dodge, Bates, & Petit, 1996).

Seventy-nine Japanese undergraduates were surveyed about potentially distressing experiences, current psychological functioning, and endorsement of traditional interdependence-based values such as interpersonal harmony and loss of face. Childhood experiences previously identified as abuse in the West were found to be associated with psychological distress in the Japanese sample as well. Namely, physical assault causing pain or injury, forced sexual experiences, harsh verbal treatment such as threatening or shaming, and neglect of basic needs were associated with symptoms of posttraumatic distress and depression. In particular, abuse perpetrated by close others before age 18 significantly predicted greater psychological distress above and beyond distress related to any other interpersonal and non-interpersonal trauma experiences. In addition, memory disruption was more likely for abuse perpetrated by close others than for other non-interpersonal traumas, while the distribution of memory disruption for abuse by perpetrators who were identified as not close did not differ from that for non-interpersonal traumas. Betrayal trauma theory was thus partially supported in this Japanese sample.

The results suggest that abuse is not uncommon in Japan, with approximately half of the participants disclosing abuse by close others before the age of 18. These findings of widespread abuse and its associated psychological harm should inform prevention and intervention efforts in Japan.

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