Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Subjective Distress and Violence during Rape: Their Effects on Long-Term Fear

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Subjective Distress and Violence during Rape: Their Effects on Long-Term Fear

Article excerpt

A brief review of the literature on reactions to rape is presented, with special emphasis on the relationship between specific aspects of the rape and subsequent fear and anxiety. A model, which incorporates the effects of the victim's subjective experience of the assault, is proposed to explain inconsistent findings in previous research. To test this model, 41 adult women who were between 3 and 120 months postassault were asked to report information about the assault (assault violence) and their subjective experience of it during the assault (distress). Subjects also answered questions about several measures of fear and anxiety. Each of these measures was regressed on the assault violence and subjective distress variables. Three of the analyses yielded significant predictors. These were the avoidance subscale of the Impact of Event Scale, the phobic anxiety subscale of the SCL-90-R, and the Veronen-Kilpatrick Modified Fear Survey vulnerability subscale. In all three, subjective distress was the only predictor retained in the regression model. The relevance of these findings to understanding rape-induced fear and anxiety and improving treatment provided to its victims is discussed.

Rape is a major social problem both because it is so traumatic for its victims and because it is so prevalent. Russell and Miller (1979) have made prevalence estimates based on large-scale survey studies. Their findings suggest that one in four women will be raped during her lifetime. Based on a survey by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, Johnson (1980) estimated that 20-30% of girls now 12 years old will suffer a violent sexual attack. More recent work by Kilpatrick and Veronen (1984) yielded a much lower estimate. They contacted) over 2,000 women through a telephone survey using random digit dialing. Of nearly 1,700 women who agreed to be interviewed, 14.5% reported having experienced at least one attempted or completed sexual assault. Despite the disparity in prevalence estimates that is reflected in these two studies, it is clear that sexual assault affects the lives of many women.

The duration and extent of its impact on adjustment is equally alarming. Numerous studies have demonstrated that rape has a lasting effect on several areas of adjustment. Feldman-Summers, Gordon, and Meagher (1979) found that victims' sexual satisfaction could remain depressed for several years. Ellis, Atkeson, and Calhoun (1981) have also reported victims' sustained problems in sexual functioning, as have Miller, Williams, and Bernstein (1982). Social, family, and vocational adjustment are other areas in which rape victims have lasting difficulties (Resick, Calhoun, Atkeson, & Ellis, 1981). Depression is also common. Atkeson, Calhoun, Resick, and Ellis (1982) found victims (N= 115) to be more depressed than matched nonvictim comparison subjects (N=S7) for four months postassault. Ellis et al. (1981) reported similar findings when they compared 27 victims who were at least a year postassault with 26 nonvictim subjects.

Fear and anxiety are other frequently observed reactions to rape. Given the threats of injury or death common to most rapes, this is not surprising. A number of studies have employed the Veronen-Kilpatrick Modified Fear Survey (Veronen & Kilpatrick 1980) to demonstrate that victims experience more fear and anxiety than do nonvictims, though there is variability in the types and duration of fears experienced. Kilpatrick, Veronen, and Resick (1979a, 1979b) found that rape-related fears, classical fears (i.e., elevators, darkness, insects), social-interpersonal fears, and failure/loss of self-esteem fears were elevated for up to six months in a sample of 46 rape victims. Kilpatrick, Resick, and Veronen (1981) later found both overall and rape-related fears elevated in their sample of 20 victims at one year postassault. This was replicated by Calhoun, Atkeson, and Resick (1982), who also found that at one year postassault, victims (N=115) had more classical fears and rape-related fears than did nonvictims (N=87). …

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