What makes sexual violence different? Comparing the effects of sexual and non-sexual violence on psychological distress

Elsevier, SSM - Mental Health, Volume 2, 2022, 100115
Jason Schnittker

Although drawing an equivalence between sexual and non-sexual violence has been critical to the feminist analysis of rape, the distinction between the two has not been the subject of much empirical research. Using the longitudinal component of the National Comorbidity Survey this study compares the long-term associations of sexual and non-sexual physical violence with psychological distress. In addition, it explores associations of sexual and physical violence with perceptions of self and others. The results reveal similarities and differences between the two types of violence. For psychological distress, the associations are statistically equivalent—both are positively associated with distress. But only sexual violence is associated with self-esteem, self-criticism, and attachment style. Survivors of sexual violence report much lower self-esteem and much more self-criticism. They are also much less likely to report a secure attachment style and, instead, report more interpersonal avoidance and anxiety. The association between sexual violence and perceptions of self and others explains much of the association between sexual violence and psychological distress, and differences in the associations are not driven by other measured characteristics of violence.