Differences in the Type and Sequence Order of Self-Defense Behaviors During a High-Risk Victimization Scenario: Impact of Prior Sexual Victimization

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Objective: During a potential sexual assault experience, an active, assertive behavioral response to threat (BRTT) can be protective, whereas a nonassertive BRTT may increase risk. However, little is known about how the sequence of behaviors that a woman engages in during a threatening situation may be related to sexual victimization. The present study investigated the style and sequence of behaviors in college women’s BRTT using a laboratory-based date rape self-defense scenario. Method: A total of 135 college women (113 with a history of sexual victimization) completed a laboratory-based self-defense scenario in which the threat stimuli and situational context were standardized. Participants also completed a comprehensive assessment of multiple BRTT styles and the sequence of behaviors used. Results: Most participants endorsed likely using multiple BRTT styles during the hypothetical scenario. Participants with a history of sexual victimization were more likely to endorse diplomatic-style and immobile-style behaviors and using immobile behaviors earlier in the sequence than participants without a victimization history. Conclusions: Previous research has typically assessed whether respondents are likely to engage in one type of BRTT. The present results indicate that women often anticipate using multiple BRTT strategies and that these strategies are likely situation dependent. Further, women with a history of sexual victimization may use different BRTT styles likely as a result of their prior traumatization.

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