Social support and recent history of assault : influences on later psychological functioning
Hagstrom, Anne Heather
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Research has suggested that women who experience physical or sexual assault are at greater risk of developing various types of psychopathology, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), than women who do not experience assault. The purpose of the current study was to examine the influences of different combinations of assault history and levels of perceived social support on psychological functioning. It was hypothesized that subjects with a recent history of combined sexual and physical assault would report significantly more symptoms of psychopathology than subjects without a recent history of physical or sexual assault. Furthermore, it was hypothesized that subjects with a recent history of either physical or sexual assault would report significantly more symptoms of psychopathology than subjects with no recent history of assault. In addition, it was hypothesized that subjects with low social support would report significantly more symptomatology than subjects with high social support. Of the 606 female undergraduate students who were screened for participation in the study, 105 reported a history of sexual assault since the age of 15, 34 reported a history of physical assault since the age of 15, 48 reported a history of both sexual and physical assault since the age of 15, and 265 reported no history of physical or sexual assault since the age of 15. The subjects completed measures of social support, trauma symptomatology (including a self-report of symptoms of PTSD), ABSTRACT PTSD), eating disorders, schizotypy symptoms, and alcohol and drug use. A median split was used to divide each of the four groups of subjects into high and low perceived social support. As predicted, significant group differences were found for virtually all symptom clusters. The combined assault group reported significantly more symptoms than the other three groups for trauma related symptoms, sexual problems, and eating disorders. In addition, the physical and sexual assault groups frequently reported significantly more symptoms than the nonassaulted group. Contrary to previous research, there was no support for the hypothesis that subjects high in social support would differ from subjects low in social support. Only for the PTSD symptom cluster of avoidance did the high social support group report significantly fewer symptoms than the low social support group. No interaction was found between assault history and social support. The findings in the current study strongly suggest that a recent history of both physical and sexual assault is more strongly related to the severity of several types of psychopathology than a recent history of either physical or sexual assault alone.