Sexual assault: Exploring real-time consequences the next day and in subsequent days


  • Todd Barrett Kashdan George Mason University
  • David J. Disabato
  • Patrick E. McKnight
  • Kerry C. Kelso
  • MarLa Lauber
  • Fallon R. Goodman



rape, well-being, emotion regulation, social anxiety, resilience


Approximately 15-20% of adult women in the United States have been sexually assaulted. Given the high prevalence of sexual assault, it becomes increasingly important to understand immediate responses to sexual assault. A lack of information prior to sexual assaults contributes to a literature that is unable to showcase the presence and amount of change. A tendency to rely on comparisons between people, instead of the collection of multiple moments of a single person over time, will continue to point toward imprecise, statistical “average” reactions to sexual assaults. Prior methodological approaches lead to broad overgeneralizations about sexual assault survivors that may undermine their unique experiences in the aftermath of an assault. The present study extends the existing literature with access to unprecedented data gathered on the days before and immediately after someone survived a sexual assault. To our knowledge, there are no studies capturing prior functioning and near immediate psychological reactions of sexual assault survivors. In the present study, each night over the course of three weeks, we asked college students (n = 186) to report on their sexual activity and well-being. Six women and one man reported being sexually assaulted at least once. We examined psychological experiences on the days before and after sexual assaults (including negative and positive affect, social anxiety, self-esteem, emotion expressive suppression, and cognitive reappraisal). To examine sexual assault reactions, we used various descriptive approaches. Our results suggest that before and after being assaulted, survivors showed no consistent response in subjective well-being. We failed to find a prototypical psychological profile. Despite the small sample, our results raise important questions and offer future hypotheses about individual differences in responses to sexual assault.


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Author Biography

Todd Barrett Kashdan, George Mason University

Todd B. Kashdan is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at George Mason University. His recent books include The Upside of Your Dark Side (2014) and Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life (2009). Much of his work is on the intersection of well-being and emotional disturbances, including research on the nature of curiosity, meaning and purpose in life, psychological strengths, and resilience. He received a B.S in Human Service Studies from Cornell University, and a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of New York at Buffalo.