Sexual assault victimization and psychopathology: A review and meta-analysis

Emily R. Dworkin, Suvarna V. Menon, Jonathan Bystrynski, Nicole E. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Sexual assault (SA) is a common and deleterious form of trauma. Over 40 years of research on its impact has suggested that SA has particularly severe effects on a variety of forms of psychopathology, and has highlighted unique aspects of SA as a form of trauma that contribute to these outcomes. The goal of this meta-analytic review was to synthesize the empirical literature from 1970 to 2014 (reflecting 497 effect sizes) to understand the degree to which (a) SA confers general risk for psychological dysfunction rather than specific risk for posttraumatic stress, and (b) differences in studies and samples account for variation in observed effects. Results indicate that people who have been sexually assaulted report significantly worse psychopathology than unassaulted comparisons (average Hedges' g = 0.61). SA was associated with increased risk for all forms of psychopathology assessed, and relatively stronger associations were observed for posttraumatic stress and suicidality. Effects endured across differences in sample demographics. The use of broader SA operationalizations (e.g., including incapacitated, coerced, or nonpenetrative SA) was not associated with differences in effects, although including attempted SA in operationalizations resulted in lower effects. Larger effects were observed in samples with more assaults involving stranger perpetrators, weapons, or physical injury. In the context of the broader literature, our findings provide evidence that experiencing SA is major risk factor for multiple forms of psychological dysfunction across populations and assault types.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-81
Number of pages17
JournalClinical Psychology Review
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • Mental disorders
  • Mental health
  • Meta-regression
  • Rape
  • Sexual violence
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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