Negative Affect Might Predict Sexual Trauma-Related PTSD

Survivors of sexual assault are often traumatized as a result of the violence perpetrated against them. But not all survivors develop posttraumatic stress (PTSD). In fact, a large majority of women who have been sexually assaulted may initially demonstrate symptoms of trauma and PTSD, but for many, these symptoms dissipate or even disappear in the weeks and months after the assault.

Understanding why some women develop PTSD and some don’t after a sexual assault could help clinicians identify those most in need of treatment. PTSD can impair a person’s ability to function, socially interact with others, and work. The symptoms of PTSD can be treated and managed, and the outlook is more hopeful with early intervention.

One researcher named Ask Elklit, MSc, of the National Center for Psychotraumatology in Denmark, wanted to find out what factors put people at risk for PTSD following a sexual assault. Elklit recently conducted a study involving 148 women who had recently survived a sexual assault. Elklit hypothesized that risk factors for sexual assault-related PTSD would differ from those related to other forms of PTSD, such as violent crimes, emotional trauma, national disaster, or war. Therefore, Elklit looked at factors specifically related to the assault, including number of perpetrators, relationship to the perpetrator, nature of the sexual assault, support received after the assault, and prior sexual trauma. Elkli also looked at personality as a predictor of PTSD in the survivors.

The results revealed that 70% of all of the survivors had extreme trauma as a result of their assaults, and almost half had symptoms of PTSD. Surprisingly however, none of the contextual factors increased risk of PTSD. Instead, Elklit discovered that negative affect and prior trauma, specifically nonsexual trauma, both directly increased risk of PTSD. Although unexpected, these findings should not be considered entirely novel, as negative affect has been repeatedly shown to be associated with a host of psychological conditions, including PTSD.

“However, we find it puzzling that most trauma studies do not take this variable into account,” said Elklit. “The results of this study highlight the importance of doing so in future studies.” Further, these results highlight the need for more comprehensive and immediate crisis intervention efforts aimed at identifying those individuals most at risk for developing PTSD in the aftermath of a sexual assault.

Elklit, Ask, MSc, and Dorte M. Christiansen, MSc. (2013). Risk factors for posttraumatic stress disorder in female help-seeking victims of sexual assault. Violence and Victims 28.3 (2013): 552-68. ProQuest. Web.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • erika


    September 1st, 2013 at 5:11 AM

    I would also strongly think that the women who seek outside help and support would be less likely to develop PTSD than those women who try to manage these complex feelings associated with sexual trauma on their own.
    I think that there are probably a lot of women who either don’t know the resources that are available to them or they choose not to take advantage of them because they think that they can handle this on their on. This is not the case for the overwhelming majority. Moat of us would need help in this type of situation and we need to get women to the point that they know that it’s okay to ask for help and use it when it is available to them.

  • Stella


    September 1st, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    Rightly pointed out that prior trauma can exacerbate the suffering.It adds up to haunt you.Not only would you be left to deal with what has happened now but it would also bring back memories and pain of the past experience,something that is damaging to say the very least.

    Yes they need care.Yes they need help.But do they know this and also that there is an availability of the same?I am not too sure about that.So the first thing would be awareness.Knowledge is power and it is not without a reason.

  • LuLu


    September 3rd, 2013 at 3:45 AM

    If these women have been abused or traumatized in the past then it stands to reason that another attack is going to scare them even more, and bring out memories that perhaps they have been hiding and repressing for a very long time.
    A new attack could lead them to face something that they have very much tried to keep hidden and often if we are forced to confront something when we are not quite ready then there can be a lot of stress and trauma tied up within that action.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.