“I Don’t Like Being That Hyperaware of My Body”: Women Survivors of Sexual Violence and Their Experience of Exercise

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The experience of exercise among women survivors of sexual violence is a multifaceted phenomenon. In effort to inform treatment interventions, we used a phenomenological approach to describe the lived experience of exercise among women survivors of sexual violence. Data analysis from a focus group discussion and individual interviews with eight women survivors receiving services at a rape crisis center (RCC) revealed four themes: exercising (and not exercising) fosters safety, exercising is risky, past trauma restricts exercise choices, and exercising is beneficial. Findings indicate that survivors’ experience of exercise is related to their connections with self and their social environment. Survivors’ choices related to exercise were impacted by their stage of recovery. A variety of social-contextual factors appeared to support or impede motivation to exercise and it was not disinterest in exercise or low confidence in the ability to exercise, but restricted exercise options perceived as safe that influenced exercise motivation.

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