Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Sarah L. Cook - Chair
Rod Watts - Co-Chair
Disclosure of sexual assault is a complicated process which depends upon a host of factors, such as assault characteristics, the victim’s interpretation, and the level of distress she experiences. Comprehensive theories of adult sexual assault disclosure have not been proposed. Most studies concentrate on a particular aspect of disclosure, such as outcomes of disclosure and reasons for disclosing versus not disclosing. A number of gaps exist in the current literature on adult sexual assault disclosure. These include the conceptualization of disclosure as a discrete or continuous variable; how it may evolve during stages of recovery; the progression of disclosure (e.g., observable patterns to disclosing); the potential variety of motivations for disclosing beyond help-seeking; and the role of culture (e.g., how one’s cultural and familial upbringing influences comfort and acceptance of disclosure as a viable option). The present study aimed to clarify and expand our previous knowledge about disclosure of sexual assault by investigating the overall process. A qualitative study, using a grounded theory approach, was conducted with a diverse sample of women who were sexually victimized after age 12. Findings from the study reveal the complex nature of disclosure and expand on previous conceptions of its process and behavioral manifestations, such as evidence supporting a disclosure continuum, a variety of motivations for disclosing and not disclosing, the roles of culture and parenting practices that may influence disclosure, and the interactive nature of disclosure and recovery. The results suggest that the disclosure process consists of the factors that contribute to whether a disclosure is made, the disclosure itself, and the aftereffects of the disclosure, a process which could be conceived as occurring in circular manner. Thus, decisions of disclosure appear to be very complex, and all of these factors potentially interact with one another and collectively influence whether a woman discloses and how much. A number of research and practical implications are discussed including examining the relationship between motivations and current recovery stages, modifying our conceptualization of disclosure (as continuous rather than dichotomous), and recognizing the needs and concerns of diverse cultural groups in their decisions to disclose.
Smith, Sharon G., "The Process and Meaning of Sexual Assault Disclosure" (2005). Psychology Dissertations. Paper 7.