A person-centered approach to examining heterogeneity and subgroups among survivors of sexual assault

N. Tatiana Masters, Cynthia A. Stappenbeck, Debra Kaysen, Kelly F. Kajumulo, Kelly Cue Davis, William H. George, Jeanette Norris, Julia R. Heiman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


This study identified subgroups of female sexual assault survivors based on characteristics of their victimization experiences, validated the subgroup structure in a second cohort of women recruited identically to the first, and examined subgroups' differential associations with sexual risk/safety behavior, heavy episodic drinking (HED), psychological distress symptomatology, incarceration, transactional sex, and experiences with controlling and violent partners. The community sample consisted of 667 female survivors of adolescent or adult sexual assault who were 21 to 30 years old (M = 24.78, SD = 2.66). Eligibility criteria included having unprotected sex within the past year, other HIV/STI risk factors, and some experience with HED, but without alcohol problems or dependence. Latent class analyses (LCA) were used to identify subgroups of women with similar victimization experiences. Three groups were identified and validated across 2 cohorts of women using multiple-group LCA: contact or attempted assault (17% of the sample), incapacitated assault (52%), and forceful severe assault (31%). Groups did not differ in their sexual risk/safety behavior. Women in the forceful severe category had higher levels of anxiety, depression, and trauma symptoms; higher proportions of incarceration and transactional sex; and more experiences with controlling and violent partners than did women in the other 2 groups. Women in the forceful severe category also reported a higher frequency of HED than women in the incapacitated category. Different types of assault experiences appear to be differentially associated with negative outcomes. Understanding heterogeneity and subgroups among sexual assault survivors has implications for improving clinical care and contributing to recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)685-696
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Abnormal Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Person-centered classification
  • Revictimization
  • Sexual assault
  • Subgroups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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