Can mentoring relationships serve as a protective factor for survivors of childhood sexual abuse?

Prowell, Ashley Nicole, and Javonda Williams. 2021. “Mentoring as a Protective Factor: Exploring Its Impact on Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Children and Youth Services Review, 128(106169).

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a prevalent issue that contributes to detrimental psychosocial outcomes.
  • Although formal treatments (e.g. therapy) can help survivors of CSA and sexual trauma, they aren’t reliable predictors of survivor psychosocial outcomes.
  • This study explores the impact mentoring relationships and individual contextual factors have on survivors of CSA’s wellbeing.
  • Findings show that encountering a mentor earlier on was associated with higher rates of socio-emotional wellbeing (SEW).
  • Survivors who perceived their mentors to be important figures in their lives strengthened SEW levels. This finding also applied to survivors who recently met up with their mentors.
  • Despite these results, the data also showed that long lengths of importance were associated with lower SEW levels.
  • Various individual contextual factors, such as age and education level, were identified.
  • For instance, older survivors and survivors with higher educational degrees were more likely to experience higher levels of SEW.
  • Mentoring can positively impact survivors of CSA. However, future studies need to examine this subject more in-depth while accounting for the complicated history of mentoring and the specific considerations about the CSA population.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)


Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse experience a wide range of deleterious psychosocial outcomes. Recent studies suggest that contextual factors – such as the survivor’s social interactions within their environment – may significantly contribute to post-abuse reaction.


The current study examines the influence of mentoring relationships and – along with individual contextual factors – and their impact on the social and emotional wellbeing of survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Participants and Setting

This study examines 150 respondents who reported experiencing sexual abuse and having a positive adult mentor in adolescence.


Using data from Wave III of The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health Study, a multiple regression analysis was applied to address the current study’s objectives.


The model was statistically significant, F(17,67) = 1.933, p = .03, resulting in 33% of the variance in social and emotional wellbeing (f2 = 0.49). The model yielded 6 significant predictors, including the age when the respondent was introduced to the mentor (β = 0.777, p = .04), current importance of the mentor (β = -0.381, p = .03), and length of importance (β = 0.958, p = .01) as well as age (β = -0.447, p = .04) and level of education of the respondent (βjuniorcollege = 1.07, p = .004; βprofessionaldegree = -0.674, p = .03).


Results suggest that survivors of childhood sexual abuse have the potential to thrive in mentoring relationships, yet more exploration on mentorship and its processes for CSA survivors is needed to ensure effective intervention.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This study aimed to further our understandings of contextual factors and their impact on the social and emotional wellbeing of CSA survivors, specifically focusing on survivors’ interactions with adult mentors as well as the survivor’s background characteristics. As mentoring relationships have previously been found to be effective with at-risk youth, the extant literature as well as Attachment Theory guided us in postulating that mentor relationships with positive adults can aid in the positive post-abuse adjustment of CSA survivors. The idea that a little over half of the sample reported average or above average levels of SEW highlights the potential importance of mentoring. Predictably so, the mentoring relationship and its characteristics were found to be a key factor to consider in the intervention of CSA survivors, as the study found significant associations between aspects of the mentoring relationship and SEW. Additionally, certain individual contextual factors were shown to have contributed to the outcome of SEW. Six important findings emerged from the study.

The age when survivors met their mentor was confirmed as an important factor in predicting SEW. Findings suggested that meeting mentors earlier in life significantly predicted higher levels SEW. This finding is consistent with extant literature on the benefits of early interventions for at-risk youth (Barnett, 1992, Haskins, 1989, McKey et al., 1985, White, 1985). Because CSA is known to have long term effects and adolescence is an emotionally vulnerable time (Cicchetti and Toth, 2005, Cicchetti et al., 2006, Courtois and Ford, 2009, Eckenrode et al., 1993, Fundudis et al., 2003, Shields et al., 1994, Mullen et al., 2000, Nolen-Hoeksema, 2001 Hurd & Zimmerman, 2010, Reynolds, 1998, Reynolds et al., 2009), support from positive adults at the earlier stages of treatment for CSA survivors – especially in adolescence – may be important to consider. Previous findings on the benefits of early intervention are mostly focused on formal interventions and not specific to children with abuse histories (Cicchetti et al., 2006, Eckenrode et al., 1993, Shields et al., 1994, Reynolds, 1998, Reynolds et al., 2009). Thus, the current study’s findings speak to the importance of further exploration focused not only on mentoring as an early intervention for CSA survivors, but also its characteristics and processes, such as informal versus formal or understanding what happens within the relationship that aids in higher levels of SEW.

Survivors who still considered their mentor to be important at the time of the study contributed to higher levels of SEW. Similarly, survivors with more recent contact with their mentor contributed to higher levels of SEW. Contrary to these findings, however, longer lengths of importance contributed to lower levels of SEW, which was especially surprising, given the bivariate associations between most mentoring variables regarding length of time, closeness, and importance. In explaining this seemingly inconsistent result, it is difficult to know whether length of importance directly corresponds with respondents’ current regard for their mentor’s importance in their life. Nevertheless, these contradictory findings are consistent with the extant literature, suggesting that factors concerning time involved in the mentor relationship is not a consistent predictor of positive youth outcomes (Parra et al., 2002, Van Bruggen, 2011). While we cannot infer that quantity of time, alone, causes SEW, it cannot be ignored that two of the three variables relevant to time spent with the mentor are significantly positive. Because the literature also suggests that CSA survivors have high dropout rates that negate the benefits of formal mentorship (Grossman & Rhodes, 2002), it should again, be noted that isolating the effects of formal versus informal mentorship in future study of mentorship among CSA survivors may be useful for making more accurate interpretations regarding this population and the effects of mentoring. Still, it can be presumed that some sort of consistency within the mentoring relationship is important for intervention with CSA survivors.

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