Thesis Title

Graphic Indicators of Sexual Abuse in Children Using the Human Figure Drawing

Graduation Date

Summer 1998

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Document Form


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

Degree Granting Institution

Notre Dame de Namur University

Program Name

Art Therapy


The purpose of this study was to determine if specific graphic indicators occur more often in the Human Figure Dewing Assessment of children who have been sexually abused. In previous studies there have been identifiable characteristics that were more prevalent in the drawings of sexually abused children than in children that have not been abused. the intention of this study was to compare the human figure drawings of 14 latency aged children that have been sexually abused to that of 18 children of the same age that have had no know history of sexual abuse. Then ascertain if there is a level of significant differences of whether indicators or features of sexual abuse were present of omitted in each group. The hypothesis is that sexually abused children render human figure drawings that contain specific features related to sexual abuse.

The abused children were attending a full Day Treatment Program through Mental Health whereas; the non-abused children were enrolled in a regular school setting. The specific indicators assessed included omitted hands and fingers, emphasized mouth, pupils omitted, legs pressed closely together, feet emphasized, elaborated belts, wedges, circle and phallic-like objects. These indicators were not found to be conclusive. The results of this study found six notable indicators that occurred more often with the sexually abused children than the non-abused children. They included figures drawn on the bottom edge of the paper, line pressure, size of an overall figure, outstretched arms, large circular eyes and omitted neck. The potential value of this study would be to enhance the awareness of clinicians in the effort to identity victims of sexual abuse using projective drawing and for the possibility to provide additional information for further identification of sexual abuse.