Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychological Science



First Reader/Committee Chair

Hassija, Christina


Sexual victimization is experienced by about 20% of women and two percent of men (Black et al., 2011). Disclosure of these incidences is high, with about 90% of survivors speaking out at least once about their assault (Ullman & Peter-Hagene, 2014). Though disclosure rates appear high, common reactions given by formal (e.g. law enforcement) and informal (e.g. a friend) sources are negative and counterintuitive to survivor growth (Ullman & Brecklin, 2002). Often studied with military veterans and suicide, perceived burdensomeness and thwarted belonging are tied to social disconnect and perceived rejection from interpersonal support systems, and often follow stressful life events such as trauma (Hill & Pettit, 2014; Ford & Collins, 2010; Van Orden, Cukrowicz, Witte, & Joiner, 2012). Negative reactions to disclosures, and the consequent rejection, can lead to diminished mental health, including depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Ullman & Peter-Hagene, 2014; Starzynski, Ullman, Filipas, & Townsend, 2005). Furthermore, shame has been researched as a possible emotional response to experiencing a traumatic event (La Bash & Papa, 2014), and this may play a role in people’s likelihood of experiencing distress following the receipt of negative social reactions. To explore the underlying processes and outcomes related to negative social reactions upon disclosure, the following hypotheses were proposed. First, the five negative social reactions (i.e., control, blaming, distracting, egocentric, and treating differently) would be positively associated with psychological distress (i.e., depression and PTSD symptoms). Next, the five negative social reactions subscales were predicted to be positively associated with state shame, perceived burdensomeness, and thwarted belonging. Finally, it was predicted that the relationships between the five negative social reaction subscales and psychological distress would be mediated by state shame, perceived burdensomeness, and thwarted belonging. Though all five negative reactions were associated with PTSD, blame and distraction were not associated with depression. Further, blame and treating differently were associated with perceived burdensomeness, however the other negative reactions and outcome associations varied. Surprisingly, an intervening relationship of the five negative reactions, shame, perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belonging, and psychological distress was not established. Implications of this study may provide important insight into relationships previously not examined with sexual assault and mental health outcomes.