Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)

Regency Ballroom Wings (Omni Shoreham)

The Effect of Gender Specific Social Roles on Recovery from Violent Crime Experiences

Catherine A. Simmons, PhD, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Background: Effecting 10.2% of the female population, it has repeatedly been shown that women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD, regardless of the type of traumatic event experienced (e.g. Kessler, Sonnega, Bromet, Huges & Nelson, 1995). Although the most promising theories to explain both trauma recovery and gender differences in this recovery fall under the Cognitive-Behavioral theoretical paradigm (e.g. Ehlers & Clark, 2000; Tolin & Foa, 2002), these theories fail to include gender specific social constructs. Indeed, socially defined gender roles, family roles, and other socially constructed stressors like oppression, sexual harassment, and/or social implications of reporting traumatic events are likely explanations for the differential rates of PTSD in men and women (Saxe & Wolfe, 1999). For this reason a conceptual model was developed which combines proven Cognitive-Behavioral trauma related constructs with gender specific social roles. Based on this conceptual model the following research question was explored: what is the relationship between gender specific social roles and trauma recovery reported by a sample of violent crime survivors?

Method: To address the research question 14 men and 14 women survivors of aggravated assault, simple assault, and/or robbery were interviewed using an open-ended survey instrument that assessed details of participants' experiences, appraisal of these experiences, social roles, and trauma symptoms. To aid in comparability, participants were purposefully selected to ensure similarity of age, ethnicity, marital status, legal classification of crime experienced, and specific characteristics of that crime.

Data analysis used for the current study consisted of four separate yet related steps. First, the interview transcripts were coded using grounded theory methodology (e.g. Creswell, 1998; Denzin & Lincoln, 1998). Second, descriptive statistics were calculated for each category. Third, connections were made between categories and to trauma symptoms based on DSM-VI-TR criteria (APA, 2000). Finally, gender comparisons were made incorporating the comparisons with both narrative examples and descriptive statistics.

Results: Four distinct themes emerge from the coding process; (1) family responsibilities (e.g. caretaker, provider, and/or protector), (2) job satisfaction and employer support, (3) leadership responsibility held by the participant, (4) changing relationships and/or changing responsibilities after the event. From each of these categories distinct differences emerged in how gender specific roles affected participant's lives and their recovery. To illustrate, all of the women who were both mothers (i.e. caretakers) and the family's primary breadwinner (i.e. providers) also reported clinically significant trauma reactions. Similar findings were noted within each of the four theme categories. The proposed poster will illustrate these differences in relation to the conceptual model that provided a framework for this study.

Conclusions/Implications: Findings of the current work provide multiple explanations for why women are at greater risk for developing PTSD following exposure to violent crime than men. Future research endeavors into trauma recovery can benefit from these findings by tailoring measurement to specific constructs identified by the participants. Additionally, therapists and policy makers can utilize the findings to shape programs that are gender responsive thus improving services to individuals exposed to crime.