Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Attributes of Spirituality Described by Survivors of Sexual Violence

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Attributes of Spirituality Described by Survivors of Sexual Violence

Article excerpt


This study's purpose was to determine what attributes of spirituality, as defined by Martsolf and Mickley (1998), are most commonly described and what aspects of these attributes are considered salient by survivors of sexual violence.

Throughout the world, sexual violence, including childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault in adults, is a prevalent problem with significant health implications (World Health Organization, 2004). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention (2006) defines sexual violence as:

   Nonconsensual completed or attempted contact between the penis and
   the vulva or the penis and the anus involving penetration, however
   slight; nonconsensual contact between the mouth and the penis,
   vulva, or anus: nonconsensual penetration of the anal or genital
   opening of another person by a hand, finger, or other object;
   nonconsensual intentional touching, either directly or through the
   clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or
   buttocks; or nonconsensual non-contact acts of a sexual nature such
   as voyeurism and verbal or behavior sexual harassment. All the
   above acts also qualify as sexual violence if they are committed
   against someone who is unable to consent or refuse. (p. 1)

Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is thought to affect 10% to 25% of girls and 5% to 10% of boys worldwide (World Health Organization, 2004). Researchers suggest that 20% of women throughout the world will experience a rape or attempted rape in their lifetime (United Nations, 2007). Little research has been conducted on men who are raped or sexually assaulted as adults, although some researchers in the United States estimate that 13% of men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime (Bolen & Scannapieco, 1999).

Childhood sexual abuse is associated with a variety of negative effects including depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and eating disorders (Berlinger & Elliott, 2002; Kendall-Tackett, 2002). The negative outcomes of adult sexual assault include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, physical symptoms, and problems with social adjustment (Elliott, Mok, & Briere, 2004; Koss, Figueredo, & Prince, 2002). Individuals who experience sexual violence are at increased risk for unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV transmission (World Health Organization, 2004).

Researchers have examined factors that mediate negative effects in rape victims. Social cognitions, for example, have been found to influence health outcomes in sexual assault survivors. Blaming one's character for a rape and believing that one is powerless and helplessness are detrimental to health, whereas blaming one's behavior for the rape is associated with less distress (Koss et al., 2002). Factors that attenuate the outcomes of sexual violence have not been extensively researched, although the use of certain coping mechanisms, such as finding meaning in the violence and reestablishing a sense of mastery (Draucker, 1997; Perrot, Morris, Martin, & Romans, 1998); social support (Golding, Wilsnack, & Cooper, 2002); and trauma-focused psychotherapy (Martsolf & Draucker, 2005; Foa, Zoellner, & Feeny, 2006) have been found to reduce harmful effects.

The use of spirituality may be one way survivors cope with the experience of sexual violence. Studies in the United States reveal that religious support (Glaister & Abel, 2001; Oaksford & Frude, 2003, Valentine & Feinhauer, 1993), beliefin and connection with divine beings (Draucker & Petrovic, 1996; Smith & Kelly, 2001), and finding spiritual meaning in adversity (Smith & Kelly) can aide in recovery from sexual trauma. Researchers have also found, however, that survivors' religious faith can fuel shame and guilt, and church communities can minimize, deny, or enable violence and abuse (Giesbrecht & Sevcik, 2000). …

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