An ecological model of the impact of sexual assault on women's mental health

Trauma Violence Abuse. 2009 Jul;10(3):225-46. doi: 10.1177/1524838009334456. Epub 2009 May 10.


This review examines the psychological impact of adult sexual assault through an ecological theoretical perspective to understand how factors at multiple levels of the social ecology contribute to post-assault sequelae. Using Bronfenbrenner's (1979, 1986, 1995) ecological theory of human development, we examine how individual-level factors (e.g., sociodemographics, biological/genetic factors), assault characteristics (e.g., victim-offender relationship, injury, alcohol use), microsystem factors (e.g., informal support from family and friends), meso/ exosystem factors (e.g., contact with the legal, medical, and mental health systems, and rape crisis centers), macrosystem factors (e.g., societal rape myth acceptance), and chronosystem factors (e.g., sexual revictimization and history of other victimizations) affect adult sexual assault survivors' mental health outcomes (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicidality, and substance use). Self-blame is conceptualized as meta-construct that stems from all levels of this ecological model. Implications for curbing and/or preventing the negative mental health effects of sexual assault are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aggression / psychology
  • Battered Women / psychology*
  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Mental Health*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Rape / psychology
  • Self Concept
  • Social Environment
  • Social Perception
  • Social Support
  • Spouse Abuse / psychology*
  • Stereotyping
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Women's Health*