Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Family Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Jason Hans


The World Health Organization (WHO; 2002) has indicated that sexual violence is a serious public health concern, and both the WHO and the United Nations (UN) have declared that violence against women, in particular, is a profound violation of human rights (UN General Assembly, 1993; WHO, 2017). Although the systemic and negative impact of trauma on family and intimate relationships have been well documented, the empirical literature regarding the effects of adult sexual trauma on relationship satisfaction is less robust. These studies are designed to address this gap and will do so with analyses centered on an understudied population: the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals. Additionally, this research will add to the literature by exploring individual coping strategies (e.g., emotion-focused coping) and relational processes (e.g., decision-making) in relation to relationship satisfaction, while considering assault severity and psychological distress. Thus, this research presents opportunities for application in clinical contexts whereby clinicians can focus on creating opportunities for shared decision-making when couples in which one partner has a sexual assault history present for therapy

Study 1: Intimate relationships are critical to posttraumatic functioning; however, there is limited information concerning the association between PTSD symptoms and relationship satisfaction among individuals who have experienced sexual assault in adulthood. Inclusion criteria for this study required participants (N = 480) to be at least 18 years of age, have personal experience with sexual victimization since their 14th birthday, and to be currently involved in a romantic relationship (married or in a committed relationship). This study is designed to examine how relationship satisfaction varies according to sexual assault severity and levels of posttraumatic stress among individuals in committed relationships. Additionally, given empirical evidence suggesting that treatment for psychological distress might mitigate the association between PTSD symptoms and relationship satisfaction, t tests will also be used to assess whether relationship satisfaction statistically differs for assault survivors depending on whether or not they participated in mental health counseling following an experience of sexual violence. Finally, given the relevance of emotion-focused coping related to posttraumatic well-being and relationship functioning, I have hypothesized that behavioral emotion-focused coping explains unique variance in relationship satisfaction, even after accounting for the variance explained by PTSD symptom severity.

Study 2: Sexual and gender minority (SGM) individuals experience disproportionately high rates of mental health problems and sexual violence compared to heterosexual adults. Given limited empirical evidence hinting at the potential for relationship involvement to buffer adverse mental health effects among SGM individuals who have experienced sexual violence, this study is designed to assess whether PTSD symptom severity differs by gender identity (cisgender vs. transgender and gender nonconforming), sexual orientation identity (sexual minority identity vs. heterosexual/straight), and relationship involvement (yes vs. no). In addition, PTSD symptom severity will be assessed in relation to sexual identity (sexual minority vs. straight) and three levels of relationship status: not currently partnered, partnered but not married, and married. Finally, relationship involvement will be explored as a potential moderator of the association between sexual violence severity and PTSD symptom severity. Participants included 322 individuals who had experienced sexual violence within the past 12 months. Previous experiences of sexual violence and length of current relationship were controlled for in the analyses.

Study 3: Romantic relationships seem to provide added benefits to SGM individuals. Moreover, how partners engage with each other appears particularly relevant for understanding relational contexts that promote psychological resilience following experiences of trauma. The positive relational processes by which SGM individuals solve problems, initiate conversation, and make decisions—often to a degree more effective than heterosexual couples (Gottman et al., 2003)—might be helpful for understanding whether and how relationships act as a protective factor for adverse mental health problems following sexual violence. Thus, this study is designed to consider the associations between relational processes (i.e., decision-making power), relationship satisfaction, and PTSD among SGM individuals who have experienced sexual violence. More specifically, I will attempt to identify what role, if any, decision-making power has in the relationship between relationship satisfaction, PTSD, and sexual violence among SGM individuals. Participants (N = 143) currently partnered SGM individuals who had reported experiences of sexual violence at some point since their 14th birthday.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Alice P. Killpatrick Fellowship, University of Kentucky School of Human and Environmental Sciences (2018)

Graduate Student Research Activity Award, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment (2019)