Sexual Revictimization and Interpersonal Effectiveness

By Kearns, Megan C.; Calhoun, Karen S. | Violence and Victims, July 1, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Sexual Revictimization and Interpersonal Effectiveness

Kearns, Megan C., Calhoun, Karen S., Violence and Victims

This study utilized a cross-sectional design in order to explore the relationship between interpersonal effectiveness, defined as level of assertiveness, social perception, and perceived self-efficacy, and repeated sexual victimization in adolescence and adulthood. In addition, we compared global versus situation-specific measures of interpersonal effectiveness. Results indicated that global measures of interpersonal effectiveness failed to differentiate victim groups, and there were also no group differences in social perception. However, on situation-specific measures, revictimized women were significantly lower than nonvictims on sexual assertiveness and sexual self-efficacy. These results support the hypothesis that interpersonal functioning is related to sexual revictimization and highlight the need to measure interpersonal functioning specifically in sexual situations as it relates to women's sexual assault history.

Keywords : sexual assault; revictimization; interpersonal skills; self-efficacy

Research on sexual revictimization has failed to identify explanations for the increased vulnerability of women with histories of sexual abuse or assault. Variables such as assertiveness, social perception, and perceived self-efficacy, the combination of which can be loosely termed interpersonal effectiveness, have received attention in the literature for their relationship to sexual victimization. Victimization might impact levels of interpersonal skills, and in turn women with strong interpersonal skills might be more effective at resisting unwanted sexual advances. Therefore, further understanding of the relationship between interpersonal effectiveness and revictimization could identify an important area of functioning that is currently neglected by most prevention programs. This cross-sectional study examined self-reported levels of assertiveness, social perception, and perceived self-efficacy in women with varied sexual assault histories. For each area of interpersonal effectiveness, global and situation-specific measures were compared in order to help clarify methodological issues raised by past research.

Despite research and prevention efforts, sexual violence rates have remained consistently high, with one in four college women endorsing a history of attempted or completed rape ( Koss, Gidycz, & Wisniewski, 1987 ). Survivors often experience wide-ranging and debilitating effects, including both physical and emotional distress ( Kimerling & Calhoun, 1994 ; Resick, 1993 ). One of the most robust predictors of sexual assault risk is a previous history of sexual abuse ( Himelein, 1995 ; Koss & Dinero, 1989 ). In a prospective study, women with victimization histories were twice more likely to be revictimized than nonvictims ( Gidycz, Hanson, & Layman, 1995 ), and a meta-analysis indicated a pronounced relationship among victimization experiences ( Roodman & Clum, 2001 ). Both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies are needed to identify correlates and potential risk factors for revictimization that are not addressed by current prevention efforts.

One relationship in need of further study is the one between interpersonal skills (e.g., assertiveness and social perception) and sexual victimization. Defined by Hall (1979) as the general ability to send and receive communication, social skill and its relationship to well-being has been the subject of much research. Assertiveness, or the ability to effectively send communication, involves "the direct expression of affect to another person, in situations of risk, with consideration of the feelings and desires of both sender and receiver of the assertive message" ( Heimberg & Becker, 1981 , p. 355). Social perception, or the ability to receive communication, refers to "the ability to accurately perceive and comprehend the behavior, feelings, and motives of other individuals" ( Morrison & Bellack, 1981 , p. 71).

Early findings on the link between assertiveness and victimization were mixed.

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