Changes in Risk Perception After Sexual Victimization: Are We Following the Right Track?

Marleen M. de Waal, Carolien Christ, Terri L. Messman-Moore, Jack J. M. Dekker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Sexual abuse is a major public health concern with detrimental effects on both mental and physical health. Several studies have reported that victims of sexual abuse have a decreased ability to recognize risk in potentially threatening situations compared with nonvictims, although others were not able to replicate this finding. In addition, although emotion dysregulation has been linked to risk perception and sexual victimization, results have been contradictory. To strengthen the theoretical framework needed for the development of interventions to reduce women’s likelihood of sexual assault, it is crucial to further examine the role of emotion dysregulation in relation to sexual victimization history and risk perception. The aim of the current study was to examine cross-sectional associations between sexual victimization, emotion regulation difficulties, and risk perception. In our sample of 276 female college students, 40% reported lifetime sexual victimization, 14% reported recent sexual victimization, and 12% reported childhood sexual abuse. In contrast to our hypothesis, we did not find risk perception to be related to lifetime sexual victimization, childhood sexual victimization, or recent sexual victimization. In addition, we did not find evidence for the expected relationship between sexual victimization, risk perception, and emotion regulation difficulties. The discussion of the current study specifically highlights the need for a clear conceptualization of risk perception and provides recommendations for future studies. More sophisticated measurement methods could lead to a higher applicability of findings to real-life situations. The potential relationships between victimization, risk perception, and emotion dysregulation need further clarification to reach the ultimate goal of contributing to the prevention of victimization.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)NP11699-NP11719
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of interpersonal violence
Issue number13-14
Early online date17 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • college women
  • emotion regulation
  • rape
  • risk recognition
  • sexual assault

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