Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Valentina Nikulina

Committee Members

Claudia Brumbaugh

Desiree Byrd

Yvette Caro

William Gottdiener

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology | Social Justice


sexual victimization, PTSD, emerging adulthood, sexual assault, disclosure, nondisclosure



According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 43% of women report experiencing some form of sexual victimization, with the highest rates occurring in emerging adulthood. It is estimated that 75% of survivors disclose this experience to someone else; the remainder of survivors keep the experience to themselves. While disclosure can be therapeutic, there are multiple factors that can complicate the disclosure process for sexual victimization survivors. There is limited research investigating why some women choose to disclose sexual victimization experiences and how their reasons may relate to psychopathology. Additionally, extant research primarily focuses on disclosers of sexual victimization and little is known about the 25% of survivors who keep this experience to themselves. This dissertation consists of three separate studies aimed at addressing the gaps in the literature on the disclosure process for sexual victimization survivors. The first study identified reasons for nondisclosure of sexual victimization and investigated how these reasons for nondisclosure are associated with self-reported depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomology. Furthermore, this study examined differences in assault characteristics, demographics, and depression and PTSD symptomology between disclosers and non-disclosers of sexual victimization. The second study identified reasons for disclosure of sexual victimization and investigated how these reasons for disclosure are associated with survivors’ self-reported depression and PTSD symptomology. The third study identified patterns of similarities in sexual victimization experiences via cluster analysis (i.e., assault instigator, assault event, perpetrator identity, disclosure status) for disclosers and non-disclosers. Additionally, this study investigated differences in symptomology based on cluster membership. Findings indicate that specific reasons for non-disclosure (i.e., lack of shame and embarrassment, minimization of experience) and disclosure (elicited disclosures) are associated with increased PTSD symptoms. Furthermore, survivors’ self-reported PTSD symptomology differed based on cluster membership. Taken together, the results of the three studies lend further support to the use of the theoretical models developed by Brofenbrenner and Campbell and colleagues when conceptualizing sexual victimization experiences, suggesting that a survivor’s well-being is influenced by the interaction of a survivor’s individual biopsychosocial characteristics and her interconnected immediate and distal environment. Furthermore, the current findings highlight the importance of the role of disclosure status in understanding the recovery process for both disclosing and non-disclosing emerging adult female sexual victimization survivors. Understanding why a survivor chooses to disclose or not disclose an assault can help to better understand her experience and mental health trajectory. With the increase in the societal focus on sexual victimization, it is important to draw upon research to educate the public about these experiences in order for survivors to receive the support and help they may need. Specific implications for clinicians, policy makers, and the community are discussed.