Reactions to a Sexual Assault Disclosure: Evaluation of an Alternative Scoring Method for the Social Reactions Questionnaire
Survivors of sexual assault receive a wide range of social reactions when they disclose their sexual assault experience to informal support sources (e.g. family and friends). The way in which the survivors perceive these reactions has been shown to have an influence on their post-assault recovery. Specifically, harmful social reactions, such as blaming and stigmatizing the survivor, often lead to an increase in distress, negative cognitions, and maladaptive coping strategies. Conversely, research on the impact of helpful social reactions, such as validation and support, has been mixed, with some studies showing that receiving these reactions is linked to less self-blame and less distress, while others find no relationship. Currently, the most commonly used instrument to evaluate sexual assault survivors' disclosure reactions is the Social Reactions Questionnaire, which gauges the frequency with which survivors received a number of potentially helpful and harmful responses when they disclosed. However, little research has examined survivors' perceptions of reactions they receive and the impact it may have on their post-assault outcomes. It seems plausible that how helpful or harmful survivors perceive these reactions is what drives their impact on adjustment. This thesis sought to develop a modified version of the Social Reactions Questionnaire (SRQ) in order to evaluate the extent to which individuals regarded the reactions they received when they disclosed the assault as helpful or harmful, rather than assessing the frequency of receipt of these reactions. Therefore, the two aims of this thesis were to evaluate the factor structure of this revised SRQ using a separate exploratory factor analysis for the helpful and harmful subscales, and then evaluate the internal consistency and item-total correlations for each subscale, as well as evaluate the convergent validity of the modified SRQ by examining correlations of SRQ subscale scores with distress, alcohol use, assault-related PTSD, social support, and assault-related coping strategies. From a final sample of 966 undergraduate women who completed an online survey for course credit, a total of 28.7% (n = 277) reported an attempted or completed rape since the age of 14, Among those who experienced attempted rape or rape, X reported disclosing the experience to at least one other person. An exploratory factor analysis supported that the modified SRQ had four harmful reaction subscales (silencing, shaming, infantilizing, and egocentric responses) and three helpful reaction subscales (empathic, validating, and providing aid). Overall, the modified version of the SRQ retained similar helpful response subscales to the "positive" subscales from the original SRQ and each subscale maintained adequate internal consistency and item-subscale total correlations ([alpha]s ranging from .71 to .89, rs ranging from .47 to .73). The harmful subscales underwent more transformations, however they also maintained adequate internal consistency and item-subscale total correlations ([alpha]s ranging from .62 to .80, rs ranging from .32 to .70). All three of the helpful reaction subscales were positively correlated with reliance on adaptive assault-related coping strategies, while only the empathic and validating response subscales were related to social support. Conversely, all four of the harmful response subscales were positively correlated with PTSD, anxiety, and reliance on maladaptive assault-related coping strategies. Overall, results support the modified version of the SRQ, but future research should examine its test-retest reliability and predictive validity, as well as the psychometrics of this measure within other populations (e.g. community samples). This future work will lead to a better understanding of how social reactions can influence survivor outcomes, including an increased understanding of how best to respond to survivors in order to facilitate post assault recovery.
East Carolina University