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Sexual Violence and Psychological Distress: The Roles of Coping Self-Efficacy, Self-Blame, Shame, Activism, and Feminism

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In the current study, we investigated potential direct and indirect effects of exposure to sexual violence on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity and depression, and anti-sexual activism and feminist identification as moderators of these effects, among a sample of 440 United States women who had experienced sexual assault in adulthood. We found that sexual violence exposure was both directly and indirectly related to PTSD symptom severity via less trauma coping self-efficacy, greater behavioral and characterological self-blame, and more shame. Sexual violence exposure was also indirectly related to depression via the same explanatory variables, except for behavioral self-blame. Contrary to our hypotheses, results indicated that involvement in anti-sexual activism and feminist identification did not buffer the direct and indirect links between exposure to sexual violence and PTSD symptom severity and depression. However, we found that involvement in anti-sexual assault activism was associated with greater coping self-efficacy and higher depression, and feminist identification was associated with less self-blame and shame. Results from this study may inform clinical interventions for survivors of sexual violence and improve overall care for this population.

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Correspondence to Charlotte Strauss Swanson.

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Strauss Swanson, C., Szymanski, D.M. Sexual Violence and Psychological Distress: The Roles of Coping Self-Efficacy, Self-Blame, Shame, Activism, and Feminism. Sex Roles 87, 419–434 (2022).

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