Doctor of Philosophy
Date of Defense
Steven E. Bruce, Ph.D.
Violent crimes represent significant costs to society and survivors; costs which include mental health conditions which may emerge afterward. Victims of sexual assault are at particularly heightened risk for developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Breslau, Davis, Andreski, & Peterson, 1991). Although Crime Victims’ Compensation (CVC) is available to assist with healthcare costs for some individuals who report the event to police (NACVCB, 2009), many crimes are not reported. Theories of crime-reporting behavior suggest that victims decide whether to report crimes to police through the use of a “cost-benefit analysis” (Gottfredson & Gottfredson, 1988, p. 25). Little research, however, has been conducted on how emotional and cognitive sequelae of violent crime affect choices made in the aftermath of a sexual assault. Further, some authors suggest that survivors of sexual assault may experience worsened PTSD symptoms due to participation in the legal system (Campbell & Raja, 1999; Campbell, Wasco, Ahrens, Sefl, & Barnes, 2001; Orth & Maercker, 2004). Yet, this existing body of research lacks comparisons of those who report the crime to police to those who do not, and does not account for post-event PTSD symptom severity. This study collected survey data from 834 male and female participants who reported experiencing an unwanted or forced sexual event. Researchers found that, in addition to assault characteristics and victim perceptions of the event, symptoms of PTSD accounted for a significant portion of the variance in reporting behavior. Specifically, avoidance symptoms decreased report liklihood, while re-experiencing and hyperarousal symptoms increased the probability of police notification. As greater avoidance symptom severity is thought to be related to chronic and severe cases of PTSD (Foa & Cahill, 2001), it is notable that these symptoms may also reduce the likelihood of police notification. In particular, these results suggest that those with perhaps the greatest need for benefits to cover the cost of future mental health care may also be less likely to satisfy CVC eligibility criteria (NACVCB, 2009). Further analyses failed to uncover evidence that participation in various legal system stages contributes to future levels of PTSD symptomatology when after-event symptom levels were accounted for.
Walsh, Ryan Michael, "Decision-making following sexual assault: Reporting decisions and exposure to the criminal justice system" (2012). Dissertations. 370.