Prior Sexual Trauma and Adjustment Following the Virginia Tech Campus Shootings: Examination of the Mediating Role of Schemas

Psychol Trauma. 2012 Nov;4(6):579-586. doi: 10.1037/a0025270.


A sizable body of research supports trauma's cumulative nature. However, few studies have evaluated potential mechanisms through which the experience of multiple traumas leads to elevated distress. The current study sought to evaluate differences between sexual trauma victims and women who had not experienced sexual trauma in their adjustment following a mass trauma (college women exposed to the 2007 Virginia Tech campus shooting). In addition, the study examined whether maladaptive schema change (lower self-worth and less belief in benevolence) and social support mediated the relationship between experiencing multiple traumas (sexual trauma and the campus shooting) and distress. The sample consisted of 215 college women who were assessed preshooting as well as two months and one year following the campus shooting. Women who had experienced sexual trauma (either contact sexual abuse or sexual assault) were compared to those who had not on their one-year postshooting PTSD and depressive symptoms. Results supported that sexual trauma victims reported significantly more depressive symptoms and shooting-related PTSD as well as less belief in benevolence and lower family support. Family support and benevolence beliefs at the two month postshooting assessment were significant medi-ators of the association between sexual trauma history and depression and PTSD. Implications of the findings for future research evaluating the cumulative impact of multiple traumatic experiences are discussed.

Keywords: multiple traumas; schemas; social support; world assumptions.