Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17329 Factors Related to Sexual Abuse and Forced Sex Among a Sample of Women Experiencing Intimate Partner Violence

Friday, January 13, 2012: 11:00 AM
Constitution D (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Jill T. Messing, MSW, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Jonel Thaller, MSW, Social Work PhD Student, GRA, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Meredith Bagwell, MSW, Doctoral Student, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Background: Sexual abuse has been described as a frequent component of intimate partner violence (IPV) affecting 40-45% of abused women and leading to serious health and reproductive health consequences (Campbell, 2002). However, little is known about the factors associated with different forms of sexual violence in intimate relationships, and the need for unique services has only been loosely theorized. The purpose of this study is to investigate factors related to sexual abuse and forced sex within violent intimate relationships in order to inform specialized service delivery.

Methods: Study participants were recruited into a National Institute of Justice funded research study at the scene of police-involved IPV incidents in one of 7 Southwestern police jurisdictions. Cross-sectional data were gathered from 432 women through structured telephone surveys. This research utilizes multinomial logistic regression to examine factors related to sexual abuse and forced sex, controlling for demographic and relationship characteristics. Differences between the three groups (no sexual violence, sexual abuse, forced sex) were examined across three domains: (1) types of non-sexual violence and abuse experienced in the intimate relationship, (2) partner/relationship characteristics, and (3) possible psychological effects of IPV.

Results: Sexual abuse, defined as coerced (not forced) condom nonuse or sexual activities, was reported by nearly 25% of the sample (n=107), and forced sex was reported by another 18.75% (n=81). In total, 43.5% experienced some form of sexual abuse or forced sex by an intimate partner. Compared to women not reporting sexual IPV, women who experienced sexual abuse or forced sex were significantly more likely to have a child with the perpetrator, to report that he was constantly and/or violently jealous, to report experiencing strangulation, and to report increased post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology (i.e., avoidance, numbing, hypervigilance, nightmares). Women who experienced sexual abuse only were more likely to report feelings of shame (Adjusted OR=3.06, p<.01). Women who experienced forced sex were more likely to report that their partner used drugs (methamphetamines or “uppers”) (AOR=2.48, p<.01), had spied on or followed them (AOR=2.90, p<.01), and had used a weapon or had threatened them with a weapon (AOR=1.97, p<.05).

Conclusions: It is important to recognize that sexual IPV may have unique physical and emotional consequences (such as PTSD symptomatology) above those associated with physical/emotional abuse. Within this sample, forced sex was associated with established risk factors for homicide (strangulation, weapons, stalking, use of drugs). Sexual abuse was associated with feelings of shame, possibly due to self-blame and ambiguity around definitions of consent and sexual violence in intimate relationships. Social workers traditionally help women experiencing IPV to develop personalized safety plans to protect against future physical violence and lethality, yet sexual health risks are rarely included. In order to address this, a new model of sexual safety planning, incorporating the development of sexual assertiveness/negotiation skills and access to reproductive health services will be presented. Providing women the opportunity to assess their sexual health risks as related to IPV is an important component of intervention that has been previously overlooked in intervention strategies.

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