A model of sexual assault acknowledgment : blame, social support, posttraumatic stress, and posttraumatic growth
Shimp, Lana Noel
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Previous research has indicated that approximately half of the women who have experiences which are consistent with legal descriptions of rape do not identify themselves as having experienced a rape. A model of sexual assault/rape acknowledgment was proposed, which attempts to integrate previous research in the area which suggests that the circumstances of the assault (i.e., relationship with the assailant, resistance and force), perceptions of significant others' and societal attitudes towards rape, attributions of blame, disclosure, unsupportive behavior from others, posttraumatic stress symptomatology, and posttraumatic growth may be important in terms of understanding acknowledgment. Path analysis was used to test this model as applied to sexual assault acknowledgment. The final sample consisted of 238 university women who had experiences consistent with legal definitions of sexual assault. This sample was obtained after screening 2552 female students based on their previous unwanted sexual experiences.The proposed model received partial support and a better fitting model was derived. Contrary to expectations, sexual assault acknowledgment was not associated with greater posttraumatic growth, as posttraumatic stress accounted for the observed relationship between sexual assault acknowledgment and posttraumatic growth. Thus, the results of this study contradict clinical and feminist literature, which suggests that acknowledgment is necessary in order to facilitate growth following a sexual trauma. More forceful assaults, greater perpetrator blame, more posttraumatic stress symptomatology, less negative perceptions of significant others' attitudes towards rape, and more negative perceptions of societal attitudes towards rape were all directly related to greater sexual assault acknowledgment. The relationship with the perpetrator, self blame, resistance, and unsupportive behavior were indirectly related to sexual assault acknowledgment. As expected, women who had experiences which were consistent with legal definitions of rape/sexual assault were more likely to use the term "sexual assault" rather than the term "rape" to describe their forced sexual experience. This study illustrates the complexity of the process of sexual assault acknowledgment, as there are many possible paths to acknowledgment. The results are discussed in terms of sexual assault reporting, clinical applications, and theoretical issues.