Examining Sexual Victimization Among Women: Do Ecological Factors Predict the Severity of Sexual Assault?
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Rape and other forms of sexual victimization against women are considered to be among the most severe and underreported crimes in the United States. Although all forms of sexual assault can be traumatic, there is research to suggest that the more severe the assault; specifically, the greater level of threat or violence, the greater the level of psychological distress a victim will experience following the attack. One of the most inconsistent and understudied areas in rape-related research involves the examination of sexual assault severity. This limitation is unfortunate given the evidence suggesting that recovery from sexual assault trauma may be mitigated or exacerbated by severity of the assault. Knowledge regarding sexual assault severity may help explain why some women report better psychological functioning than others following the attack. The guiding theoretical perspective for this study is based in Bronfenbrenner's ecological theory. The purpose of this study is to empirically examine individual, familial, and community level factors and the impact these factors have on severity of sexual assault experienced by a diverse sample of women in the United States. A secondary analysis was conducted using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey from 1992-2005. The sample included Asian, Hispanic, Native American, non-Hispanic Black, and non-Hispanic White women, 12 years of age or older, reporting at least one sexual assault incident. Using multinomial logistic regression, results indicated that marital status including divorced, separated, or widowed women, and relationship to offender such as current or former spouse, other family member, boy/girlfriend, and acquaintance proved to be risk factors for severity of sexual assault among the sample. Older age, other victimization experiences, children present in the household, and work the previous week were found to have a protective influence on severity of sexual assault. The current findings underscore the importance for additional research investigating women of color as protective and risk factors were present for each race/ethnicity examined and also adds to the body of knowledge regarding severity of sexual assault.