Four Possible Classes of Sexual Victimization

Harold Mandel's picture
Sexual assault

Sexual assault is a horrible crime and yet it is very common across the United States and worldwide. The potential for very serious physical and psychological damage from sexual assault is great. Researchers have recently come to the conclusion that repeat sexual assault victims are at an even higher risk for serious psychological harm than previously thought.

An analysis of the high prevalence of sexual assault in the United States leads us to consider that Americans overall may be more barbaric in their genetic make-up than we would like to believe or that the American society has a tragically faulty framework which isn't working well at all and nurtures more barbarism among us than we generally accept as being real. Sexual assault in other words continues daily across the country even though it is recognized as a very serious crime. Sexual victimization is very prevalent in the United States and is significantly overrepresented among adolescents reported the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Classifying sexual victimization

Researchers set out to investigate whether or not meaningful classes of sexual victimization could be seen based upon the tactic used and the severity of sexual behavior. Victimization classes which were explored were based on personal characteristics and psycho-behavioral outcomes. There was an examination of peer sexual coercion experiences among 657 racially diverse high school and college students, with four classes were identified:

1: Non-victims (54%)

2: Manipulated and forced fondle/intercourse (27%)

3: Poly-victimization (9.5%)


4: Forced fondling (9.5%)

Those among the poly-victimization class displayed the greatest level of psycho-behavioral consequences along with significantly lower self-esteem, increased psychological distress, and greater sexual risk taking than all of the other classes. Poly-victimization could consist of verbal coercion, substance facilitation, and physical force which results in completed intercourse. Significantly lower self-esteem than non-victims was seen in the manipulated and forced class. These findings can help in the understanding of patterns of sexual victimization and associated consequences to help in targeting interventions more effectively.

One in five adult women and one in 100 adult men have reported being raped according to recent studies. The prevalence has been found to increase to two in five among women and one in five among men who report having experienced other forms of sexual violence, such as repeated sexual contact which is not wanted and coercion to have sex.

Psychological consequences of sexual assault

Now it has been observed by researchers that sexual assault victims who are repeatedly assaulted, but who are not necessarily violently raped, display greater levels of psycho-behavioral consequences than was previously thought reports the University of Missouri. It has been suggested by the researchers suggest that a better understanding of patterns of sexual victimization and associated consequences should help develop strategies to fight sexual assault frequency among adolescents.

Bryana French, assistant professor of counseling psychology in the Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology in the College of Education at the University of Missouri, says these findings are important because they help to identify weaknesses and potential fallacies in classifying survivors just based on the violence which is encountered during the assault. French says indirect, repeated or subtle manipulation tactics can result in a lifetime of serious psychological consequences.

French has pointed out that it has become clear that people who are victimized by sexual assault often experience re-victimization by the same or by a different person. This study focused on those people who are targeted by multiple forms of unwanted sexual advances and the psychological cost which those experiences have on the victims. It is the hope of French that the information which has been gained from this study can help begin a conversation among parents, adolescents and school administrators dealing with the importance of consent and what steps can be taken to encourage preventative behavior.

The finding that not just violent sexual assaults, but also repeated sexual assaults of varying dimensions, are common in the United States is disturbing. The potential for serious psychological consequences in sexual assault victims should alert us to the need for more aggressive action to confront this problem. When we turn our back on the consequences of sexual assault we are nurturing a pathetically sick and brutal society by giving the perpetrators the power they always craved to run the country in every sector while wasting the lives of the victims and those who would have liked to have been able to have helped them.