Why do women talk about it? Reasons for disclosure of sexual victimization and associated symptomology.

Author(s): 
Carson, K.W., Babad, S., Brown, E.J., & Nikulina, V. (2021).
Source: 
Violence Against Women, 1 – 22.
Type of Profession:
Keywords:
Summary: 

This study aimed to further understand the experiences of female survivors (aged 18–29 years) by identifying their reason for disclosure of sexual assault and how reasons relate to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomology.

Expanded Abstract: 

At least 43% of women report experiencing some form of contact sexual violence (i.e., attempted or completed rape, forced penetration, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact) in their lifetime, with the majority of women reporting that victimization first occurred in emerging adulthood (i.e., late teens through 20s; Arnett, 2000; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, 2015). Specifically, 81% of completed or attempted rape survivors report experiencing their victimization before the age of 25 years (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, 2015). Sexual victimization survivors are at risk for a range of psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, substance use, and depression (Miller et al., 2011; Rothbaum et al., 1992; Sabina & Ho, 2014; Ullman, Townsend, et al., 2007). Furthermore, they are at a particularly elevated risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with 41.7% of rape survivors meeting criteria for PTSD compared with 11.5% of survivors of a nonsexual assault (Ullman & Peter-Hagene, 2014; Ullman, Townsend, et al., 2007). Approximately two thirds to three quarters of female sexual victimization survivors ultimately disclose this experience to a recipient (Ahrens et al., 2007, 2010; Carson et al., 2019).

Many sexual victimization survivors disclose their experience; however, there is limited research investigating why women disclose this experience and how reasons relate to their mental health status. The current online study aims to further understand the experiences of 142 female survivors (aged 18–29 years) by identifying their reason for disclosure and investigating how reasons relate to self-reported depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomology. Data analyses identified two reasons: intentional and elicited disclosures. Intentional decisions to disclose experiences of sexual victimization are made so that the survivor can receive emotional support, tangible aid, or justice (Ahrens et al., 2007; Orchowski & Gidycz, 2012; Ullman & Filipas, 2001). Results from this study also indicate that some women disclose their experience for the first time when someone who has either pressured them or questioned them about their current behavior, emotional state, and/or relationship history. Those elicited disclosures were associated with higher PTSD symptomology than intentional disclosures initiated by the survivor suggesting that disclosure reason is an important factor in the recovery process.

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