Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Psychology, Clinical-Community

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Emily Gerstein, Ph.D.


Rachel Wamser-Nanney, Ph.D.

Zoe Peterson, Ph.D.

Kristen Jozkowski, Ph.D.


Although different coerced sexual experiences have been associated with different psychological symptoms (e.g., Davis et al., 2014), many limitations have plagued previous classification systems and severity continuums of coerced sexual experiences. The present study aimed to uncover meaningful differences across classes of coerced sexual experiences for the dimensions of sexual act and coercive tactic to inform future classification systems and severity continuums. Participants with a history of coerced sexual experiences (N = 402) completed an online survey about their worst or only coerced sexual experience, identifying the worst (or only) sexual act and the worst (or only) coercive tactic that occurred. They completed a battery of measures addressing psychological correlates of the experience. Coerced experiences were grouped into classes derived from the SES-SFV according to the worst (or only) reported sexual act and coercive tactic. Psychological correlates were compared across classes to examine between-group differences. The results of the present study demonstrated a pattern of severity for sexual act that is partially consistent with previous research, such that the class comprised of fondling, kissing, and clothes removal was associated with fewer psychological symptoms than other classes. Results also demonstrated that the coercive tactic classes of anger/criticism and physical force were associated with more psychological symptoms, and not having a chance to say “no” was associated with fewer psychological symptoms compared to other classes of coercive tactics. Furthermore, more sexual acts and more coercive tactics during a single coerced sexual experience was positively associated with psychological symptoms. The results of this study have many implications. Given that the pattern of severity for coercive tactics differed from what is suggested by existing measures of severity, current measures may require revision. Further research is needed utilizing larger diverse samples to establish a more accurate measure. Moreover, sexual assault prevention curriculum focused on “affirmative consent” may ignore some types of coerced sexual experiences, and programs may need to expand the range of coerced sexual experiences addressed. Furthermore, results suggest that mental health clinicians are likely to see individuals with coerced sexual experiences that do not qualify as “rape” presenting for mental health treatment.