Disclosure of sexual assault: characteristics and implications for posttraumatic stress symptoms among African American and caucasian survivors

J Trauma Dissociation. 2010;11(2):174-92. doi: 10.1080/15299730903502938.


Although the general trauma literature links disclosure of abuse to positive psychological and physical health outcomes, findings for sexual assault survivors are mixed. Supportive responses can reaffirm self-worth; however, negative responses can increase feelings of shame and isolation. This study examined the effects of disclosure in a community sample of Caucasian and African American sexual assault survivors who completed computer-assisted self-interviews. Among the 58.6% of survivors who had disclosed to someone (n = 136), 96% had disclosed to at least 1 informal and 24% at least 1 formal support provider. The experiences of African American and Caucasian survivors were similar in many ways. Participants received more positive than negative responses from others, although only negative responses were related to posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and particularly so for African American participants. Regretting disclosure and disclosure to formal providers were also related to posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. Suggestions are made for programs to decrease negative responses to disclosure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Disclosure*
  • Sex Offenses / psychology*
  • Sex Offenses / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Support
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Trauma Severity Indices
  • United States
  • White People / psychology*
  • White People / statistics & numerical data