Is the Risk for Sexual Revictimization Cumulative? A Prospective Examination

Published:December 27, 2022DOI:



      Sexual abuse during childhood is associated with risk for sexual assault as an adult, known as revictimization. Although multiple experiences of sexual assault in adulthood are also common, it is unclear how risk trajectories might continue to evolve in emerging adulthood, defined as ages 18 to 25. Clarifying risk trajectories is important to inform the development of targeted risk reduction interventions. To fill this gap, we examined cumulative risk for sexual assault in emerging adult women following multiple experiences of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and adulthood sexual assault (ASA).


      Women (n = 447; aged 18–25 years at enrollment) completed behaviorally specific assessments of unwanted sexual experiences at up to nine time points across 3 years. Logistic regression was used to predict any sexual assault during the 3-year period as a function of victimization history at baseline. A multilevel logistic regression analysis among ASA survivors was then used to determine whether each successive ASA increased risk for further victimization.


      Extending prior research, findings revealed that the risk for sexual assault during the 3-year study was greater for women reporting more prior experiences of CSA and ASA. Unexpectedly, each ASA increased the risk for a subsequent ASA to a lesser extent among women with more experiences of CSA.


      Findings suggest that the risk for sexual revictimization can be cumulative, but that risk does not increase indefinitely. Future research should investigate the points at which survivors of multiple assaults may begin to experience a decreased risk for later assaults, as well as the factors associated with change in risk status (e.g., removal from violent environments or relationships, changes in institutional policies). Such research could inform intervention targets.
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      Anna E. Jaffe, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Her research focuses on interventions for sexual assault, PTSD, and substance use, with an emphasis on recovery from alcohol-involved sexual assault.


      Alexandra N. Brockdorf, MA, is a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Her research examines the mental and physical health consequences of sexual violence.


      Terri L. Messman, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology and University Distinguished Scholar at Miami University. Her research examines child maltreatment, interpersonal violence, emotion dysregulation, PTSD/complex PTSD, depression, and shame, and the relation of mindfulness and self-compassion to trauma recovery.


      Kim L. Gratz, PhD, is professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Toledo. Her laboratory and treatment outcome research focuses on the role of emotion dysregulation in borderline personality disorder, self-injury, and risky behaviors.


      David DiLillo, PhD, is the chair and Willa Cather Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. As a researcher, he is interested in understanding interpersonal violence, especially sexual assault and intimate partner violence.