Sexual Assault, Perceived Stigma, and Religiosity: Implications for Help-Seeking

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While a substantial amount of research has addressed the psychological impact sexual assault has on its victims – as well as subsequent behavioral consequences – little is known regarding the stigma a victim of sexual assault may perceive as a result of her experiences. Perceived stigma may include feelings of shame, exclusion, and self-consciousness. Additionally, there have been no studies to date examining the impact such perceived stigmatization may have on help seeking behavior. To address this lack of data, college undergraduates at East Tennessee State University were recruited and surveyed over the Internet (course credit was provided as compensation for participation). To date, 51 (15%) out of 331 female participants indicated that they had experienced sexual assault (i.e., they had been coerced – physically or otherwise – into engaging in sexual activity against their will). Preliminary results indicated that these women perceived stigma as a result of sexual assault (M=1.40, SD=.87, range=0-3). Although marginally significant, preliminary results further show that with increased levels of perceived stigma women were somewhat less likely to seek help or support from friends and family; for example, participants who perceived themselves as stigmatized were less likely to share details of the incident with others (r=-.284, p=.053) or ask others to share similar experiences (r=-.275, p=.061). Other factors potentially impacting the relationship between perceived stigmatization and help seeking will be addressed; specifically, the impact of religious fundamentalism on perceived stigma and subsequent help seeking behavior. Because these consequences of sexual assault and contributors to help seeking have yet to be addressed in the literature on sexual assault, this study sheds new light on the impact such events have on women.


Chicago, IL

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