Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Steven Vannoy

Second Advisor

Sharon Lamb

Third Advisor

Sarah Ullman


Many women will experience a sexual assault during their lifetime and this event can have a large impact on women’s mental health. Scholars have posited that the U.S.A. is a society with a rape culture, in that the entire continuum of sexual violence against women is expected and normalized. Drawing from stress theory, this study proposes that women experience gendered violence stress because they live in a rape culture.

The goal of the present study was to explore the ways that the shadow of gendered violence stress impacts women’s mental health. This study aimed to explore: 1) Does rape culture, as a gendered violence stressor, relate to PTSD symptoms for college-aged women?, 2) Is the relationship between rape culture and PTSD symptoms and rape culture moderated by history of being sexually assaulted for college women? And 3) For survivors of sexual assault, does rape culture predict PTSD symptoms above and beyond other factors related to the sexual assault (time since assault, relationship to perpetrator, severity of violence utilized in the assault, and substance use during the assault)? Quantitative methods were used to collect and analyze the data.

Statistical analyses revealed that gendered violence stress predicts trauma symptom severity for female undergraduate students and this relationship is moderated by experiencing an assault. Further analyses were conducted that included known predictors of trauma symptom severity 1) time since assault, 2) alcohol intoxication of the survivor, 3) the survivor’s relationship to the perpetrator, and 4) level of violence used in the assault. The results of these analyses indicate that gendered violence stress scores are an important additive predictor of traumatic stress symptoms. Limitations of the current study are outlined. Implications for society as well as clinicians regarding the findings of the study are further discussed.


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