Hannah Doctor

Date of Award

January 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Alan King


The perpetrator of religion justified child abuse relies on spiritual beliefs (religious texts, context, or authority) to justify acts of maltreatment. This form of abuse can be manifested in many different contexts including infamous scandals of sexual abuse committed by catholic priests and the physical/sexual/emotional maltreatment occurring at Native American or other boarding schools for troubled youth. Parents and caretakers often claim "to spare the rod is to spoil the child”. Previous research has suggested that maladjustment outcomes after traumatic events are less severe among victims with strong religious beliefs. This study hypothesized that religious justified abuse would be associated with more negative outcomes than other acts of maltreatment. A total of 839 respondents were surveyed with indices measuring abuse history, religious justifications for the maltreatment, and maladjustment outcomes including symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and aggressiveness. Religion justified abuse in this national sample was associated with higher levels of internalized and externalized maladjustment than general abuse victims or normative respondents. These results suggested the religion justified abuse represents a unique form of maltreatment associated with even harsher maladjustment outcomes. More research is needed on this distinctive form of sexual, physical, and emotional child abuse.