Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

MA in Psychology



First Advisor

Andrea J Bergman

Second Advisor

Elissa J Brown


Sexual assault is a public health crisis in the United States, with college women at an increased risk for experiencing unwanted sexual contact and rape. Following an experience of sexual assault, women are susceptible to negative outcomes including suicidality, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. One of the factors that influences the development of psychopathology after a sexual assault is social reactions to disclosure. When women tell someone about their sexual assault, they may receive both positive and negative social reactions. Social reactions have been found to be associated with negative mental health outcomes for survivors. Several sexual assault characteristics, including the relationship between the survivor and perpetrator and the involvement of alcohol or other substances, have been found to be associated with social reactions. Previous researchers have examined the associations between sexual assault characteristics and social reactions to disclosure. There is a lack of understanding, however, about which of these assault characteristics have the greatest impact on negative social reactions to disclosure. This study aimed to directly compare a number of sexual assault characteristics to understand how each characteristic is uniquely associated with social reactions to disclosure.

The current study examined 340 undergraduate female survivors of sexual assault (i.e., unwanted sexual contact and attempted/completed rape). Participants completed surveys on traumatic experiences, sexual assault experiences, and social reactions to disclosure. Hierarchical regressions were employed to understand the unique variance of sexual assault characteristics in association with social reactions to disclosure.

Closeness of the survivor-perpetrator relationship contributed the most variance in relation to negative social reactions to disclosure. Involvement of alcohol, surprisingly, did not contribute unique variance to this association with negative social reactions to disclosure. Implications for university programming and interventions will be discussed.

Included in

Psychology Commons