Relationship Between Negative Social Reactions to Sexual Assault Disclosure and Mental Health Outcomes of Black and White Female Survivors

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Objective: This study investigates the effect of race on the relationship between negative reactions to sexual assault disclosure and the psychological sequelae such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and problem drinking in female sexual assault survivors. Method: Using hierarchical regression in an ethnically diverse community sample of 622 female adult sexual assault victims, we assessed for sexual assault; negative reactions to sexual assault disclosure; and symptom severity for PTSD, depression, and problem drinking. Results: Negative social reactions to sexual assault disclosures were significantly associated with negative mental health outcomes across race. Race moderated the influence of negative disclosure reactions on psychological symptoms; however, the moderation was not similar across racial groups and psychological outcome measures. Although Black and White survivors evidenced distress through depression, PTSD, and substance use, Black women who received low to moderate negative reactions to their disclosures of assault were more likely to show increases in PTSD and depression whereas high negative reactions to disclosure were related to higher PTSD and depression similarly for both Black and White women. In addition, Black and White women who experienced more negative social reactions had greater substance abuse, with no difference by race. Conclusion: The results provide further support for detrimental effects of negative reactions on Black and White survivors and highlight the importance of educating people in the community about sexual assault and how to respond in more supportive ways.

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