Experiencing sexual violence can result in serious psychosocial conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress symptoms. To date, no psychometrically-sound assessment tool of survivors’ experiences and psychosocial sequelae has been located. The aims of this review were to identify research that included qualitative methods that focused on the influences of sexual violence on psychosocial outcomes and to review how these influences impacted recovery.
Electronic databases, PubMed, PsycInfo, and CINAHL, were searched with key terms related to sexual violence research, e.g., sexual assault, qualitative methods, and survivors. Data extracted for the subsequent review included study purpose, sample, methodology, main findings, and outcome measurements utilized.
A total of 767 potentially-relevant studies were identified, with 14 studies being included in the final (full-text) review. Two broad themes were identified from the findings in these studies: psychological effects and social effects. Psychological effects were subdivided into six subthemes: posttraumatic stress symptoms, depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, coping, anxiety symptoms, and internalization. Five subthemes emerged from social effects: social isolation, fear of others’ perceptions, impacts of personal connections, impacts of disclosure, and experiences of betrayal. Of the 14 outcome measurements utilized across studies, the Sexual Experiences Survey was used most frequently (n = 4).
Despite the thematic umbrella developed in this review, there remains a paucity of qualitative research in the sexual violence literature. Further exploration of the lived experiences of survivors is needed to obtain greater understanding of the negative outcomes following sexual violence. Until this is done, there is an insufficient basis upon which to develop a relevant and psychometrically-sound measure of the psychosocial outcomes of sexual violence survivors.