Risk processing and college women’s risk for sexual victimization
Objective: Sexual assault is a widespread problem among college women. Interventions effective in reducing college men’s sexually aggressive behavior are scarce making research with at-risk women a necessary adjunct to work with men. This study examined whether individual differences in decoding risk information and making decisions about risky situations prospectively predicted sexual victimization 6 months later, as well as whether these cognitive processes mediated the association between baseline and follow-up victimization. Method: Participants were 481 freshman undergraduate women aged between 18 and 24 years, who were heterosexual or bisexual, and unmarried. At baseline, participants completed tasks measuring decoding and decision-making about victimization risk in written vignettes describing risky social situations. They also completed the Sexual Experiences Survey to measure the severity of victimization experiences at baseline and follow-up. Results: Less effective decision-making at baseline prospectively predicted more severe follow-up victimization. Judging more situations as high risk at baseline, as well as relying more on risk cues when judging risk at baseline, indirectly predicted less severe follow-up victimization via more effective decision-making. Less effective decision-making at baseline partially accounted for the strong prospective link between victimization severity at baseline and follow-up. Conclusion: Risk-related decoding and decision-making processes either directly or indirectly prospectively predicted the severity of future sexual victimization of college women. Cognitive-training methods designed to enhance college women’s detection of and response to victimization risk should be explored as a potential preventative strategy for the reduction of women’s risk for sexual violence.
To read the full paper:
Yeater, E.A., Treat, T.A., Viken, R.J., & Bryan, A.D. (2020). Risk processing and college women’s risk for sexual victimization. Psychology of Violence, 10, 575–583. (pdf)