Many survivors will experience some degree of acute or chronic mental or physical health disturbance after their rape (Neville & Heppner, 1999). African American survivors reported fear, anger, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal feelings, low self-esteem, and preoccupation with the rape (Pierce-Baker, 1998; Robinson, 2002). These mental health problems can be exacerbated if survivors endorsed the Jezebel stereotype, as measured by such items as “People think Black women are sexually loose.” The greater endorsement of such beliefs among Black rape survivors were related to increased use of victim blame attributions, which in turn was related to lower levels of self-esteem (Neville, Heppner, Oh, Spanierman, & Clark, 2004).
Rape can also impair physical and sexual health and the quality of interpersonal relationships. For example, some Black survivors engaged in risky sexual behaviors, such as prostitution or sex with multiple partners, which increased their probability of experiencing repeated vaginal infections, painful intercourse, unintended pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. For other Black survivors, sexual trauma has been associated with the avoidance of sexual relationships, decreased frequency of sexual activity, and diminished sexual enjoyment (Pierce-Baker, 1998; West et al., 2000; Wyatt, 1992). Also, Black sexual assault victims reported higher rates of intimate partner violence (West et al., 2000), mistrust and negative attitudes toward men, and negative attitudes toward Black male-female relationships (West & Rose, 2000; Wyatt, 1992). Although researchers have found associations between sexual victimization and poorer mental health, it is possible that psychological problems also may stem from a dysfunctional family environment or lack of emotional support after the assault (Cecil & Matson, 2006).
M. West With contributions from Jacqueline Johnson
Mental and Physical Health Consequences