College Women's Experiences of Psychological Maltreatment and Sexual Assault

By Aosved, Allison C.; Long, Patricia J. | Violence and Victims, October 2005 | Go to article overview

College Women's Experiences of Psychological Maltreatment and Sexual Assault


Aosved, Allison C., Long, Patricia J., Violence and Victims


A sample of 648 college women recruited from undergraduate psychology classes was examined to explore the relationship between past psychological maltreatment and sexual assault. Based on responses to the Sexual Experiences Survey and the Psychological Maltreatment Inventory, women were classified by level of unwanted sexual contact (i.e., vaginal or anal intercourse; oral genital contact and/or object penetration; or kissing and/or fondling), by method used to obtain the sexual assault (i.e., women were classified as experiencing coerced assaults, forced assaults, or both), and by identity of perpetrator (i.e., acquaintances or strangers). Results pointed to significant differences in the amount of past psychological maltreatment reported by women experiencing any type of assault as compared to women without assault experiences, regardless of perpetrator identity. Moreover, higher levels of psychological maltreatment were associated with having experienced any type of coerced sexual activities. There were no differences by type of assault. Finally, a series of ANOVAs was conducted to examine the interaction between coercion and force in the psychological maltreatment reported by women experiencing different forms of assault. With few exceptions, greater maltreatment was associated both with the occurrence of coerced assaults and with the occurrence of forced assaults. A significant interaction was seen with one form of assault, unwanted kissing and/or fondling perpetrated by an acquaintance. This interaction may suggest that, at least for this one form of contact perpetrated by acquaintances, the presence of past psychological maltreatment is uniquely associated with experiencing adult sexual assaults involving both force and coercion.

Keywords: psychological maltreatment; sexual assault; rape; psychological abuse; coercion; force

Sexual violence is an alarming problem in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI; 2000) estimates that one in four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. In a national survey of college women, 53.7% of the participants reported experiencing some form of sexual violence (Koss, Gidycz, & Wisniewski, 1987). Furthermore, approximately 84% of all assaults are committed by an acquaintance (FBI). Thus, women are at risk of sexual victimization in the company of those they know and love as well as when they are with strangers.

One variable that may co-occur with sexual violence, especially among acquaintances, is psychological maltreatment. Such behavior may serve as a precursor to sexual assault (Kasian & Painter, 1992). While it has been well documented that psychological maltreatment is frequently a precursor to the physical abuse of women (Tolman, 1989), few investigations have examined psychological maltreatment in conjunction with sexual assault. However, a number of investigations have explored the co-occurrence of multiple assault experiences across relationships (e.g., sexual abuse, sexual assault, and physical assault).

Specifically, studies available indicate that experiencing multiple forms of abuse may be common for victims. For example, Testa and Dermen (1999) found that women who experienced rape due to coercion had more severe child sexual abuse experiences than women who did not experience coerced rape. Additionally, in an investigation of maltreatment, Higgins and McCabe (2000) found that adults who reported one type of child maltreatment (physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or witnessing domestic violence as a child) were likely to report multiple types of maltreatment. In another study, investigators found evidence of the co-occurrence of battering, physical assault, and sexual assault in a sample of community women (Smith, Thornton, DeVellis, Earp, & Coker, 2002). Similar findings are seen in a longitudinal study of adolescents and college-age women, where results indicated that adolescent victimization (e. …

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