Narcissistic Injury and Sexual Victimization among Women College Students

By Billingham, Robert E.; Miller, Ashley et al. | College Student Journal, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Narcissistic Injury and Sexual Victimization among Women College Students


Billingham, Robert E., Miller, Ashley, Hockenberry, Stewart L., College Student Journal


342 women undergraduate students participated in a study to assess whether there was a relationship between narcissism and sexual victimization. The seven narcissism sub-scales from the Narcissistic Personality Inventory were used as the dependent variables and responses to the Coercive Sexual Behaviors scale separated the women into victim or non-victim groups, the independent variable. Multivariate analysis of variance procedures revealed that victims reported significantly higher scores on both the Exhibitionism (F (1,230)=10.18, p [is less than] .01) and the Exploitativeness (F (1,230)=8.17, p [is less than] .01) subscales than did women who reported no experience with sexual victimization. If Narcissism is viewed as a trait developed during childhood, these results suggest that women who develop higher levels of narcissistic exhibitionism and/or exploitativeness during childhood may be more likely to place themselves in situations in which the likelihood of experiencing sexual victimization later in life. If Western society is becoming more narcissistic then we can expect that the sexual victimization of women will continue to increase, not solely due to the aggressive behaviors of males, but also due to women' own level of narcissistic injury.

Sexual assault against women continues to be a significant problem on many university campuses. Depending on how the questions are worded, and the definitions of sexual assault, estimates of the degree to which college women experience sexual assault range from 77.6% (Muehlenhard & Linton, 1987), 47.7% (Billingham & Zentall, 1998) and 44% (Bridgeland, Duane, & Stewart, 1995). However, regardless of the wording, the sexual assault against women is far to high. Because sexual assault is such a pervasive problem, both on and off of university campuses, researchers have attempted to identify variables that might place women at risk for experiencing this form of aggression.

Some of the extrinsic variables that have been found to be associated with adult sexual victimization include childhood sexual victimization (Talmadget & Wallace, 1991), substance use or abuse (Gross & Billingham, 1998, Harrington & Leitenberg, 1994; Milgram, 1993), length of time the couple has known each other (Bridgeland, Duane & Stewart, 1995), parental divorce (Billingham & Zentall, 1998), where the assault took place (Collings, 1994) and the couples mis-communication about sex or sexual expectations (Jenkins & Dambrot, 1987). Research on the intrinsic variables associated with experiencing sexual victimization include the victims' self-esteem (Resick, 1993; McArthur, 1990), body dissatisfaction (Billingham & Patterson, 1998) and borderline personality disorders (Hurlbert, Apt & White, 1991).

Regardless of whether the variables under investigation are extrinsic or intrinsic, researchers continue to believe that it is the individual's own unique experiences, either familial or within the context of a relationship outside of the family, that "causes" both the intrinsic and extrinsic that places the individual at greater risk for sexual victimization. While the importance of the family, and the individual's experiences within relationships can not be underestimated, it is often forgotten that a child's family raises them within the context of a greater society.

Social observers from a variety of disciplines have raised the concern that current family life in America, if not in the industrial world as a whole, is placing children at a greater risk of developing more narcissistic personality disturbances (Moore, 1992; Morganthau & Person, 1978). Over the last several decades there has been a growing interest and concern regarding the condition of self in relation to others within Western society (e.g., Buber, 1970; Erikson, 1950, 1968; Goffman, 1959; Hermans, Kempen, & Van Loon, 1992; Marsella, DeVos, & Hsu, 1985; Neibuhr, 1963; Smith, 1978). …

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