Date of Award

Summer 8-26-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Counseling Psychology


Professional Psychology and Family Therapy


Margaret Brady-Amoon, PhD

Committee Member

Pamela Foley, PhD, ABPP

Committee Member

Noelany Pelc, PhD, LP


unwanted sexual experience, help-seeking, concealment, rape myth acceptance, ambivalent sexism, minority stress theory


The present study was based on the premise that facets of the minority stress theory may be used as a framework to examine the unique and pervasive social stressors cisgender female survivors encounter when seeking formal support (e.g., help-seeking) after unwanted sexual experiences (USE). The application of minority stress theory with this population suggests that cisgender female survivors face unique and hostile proximal stressors (e.g., rape myth acceptance, ambivalent sexism) that, if internalized, can impact their ability to disclose (e.g., concealment of the USE), and have deleterious effects on their mental health and help-seeking behaviors with formal support systems. The current study sought to understand how the internalization of these proximal stressors (i.e., rape myth acceptance, ambivalent sexism, and concealment), as well as the perception of social support (a resiliency factor), influence the likelihood of help-seeking behaviors and general stress outcomes after USE. Participants (N = 223) were recruited via Prolific, an online participant recruitment platform. To participate, all participants were (a) at least 18 years old, (b) lived in the U.S., (c) spoke fluent English, (d) identified as a cisgender female, and (e) had at least one USE. Additionally, (f) the USE must have occurred within the past 16 years and (g) did not occur before the survivor was 14. After a brief screening survey to confirm these eligibility criteria, participants completed an online survey that assessed their endorsement of proximal stressors, perceptions of social support, and level of overall stress. The results of this study suggest that the less survivors perceive having social support, the more they experience general stress post-USE. Additionally, the more a survivor conceals her USE, the more stress she experiences. Social support emerged as the strongest predictor of stress compared to the combined proximal stressors; however, of the proximal stressors, concealment emerged as the strongest predictor of stress, regardless of help-seeking status. Moreover, one of the unanticipated findings of this study was the importance of help-seeking status in identifying the predictors of overall stress for survivors of USE. Results suggest that the primary difference between help-seekers and non-help-seekers in predicting stress is that the perception of social support (particularly support from significant others and friends) predicts reduced stress for help-seekers, whereas concealment predicts increased stress for non-help-seekers. Regardless of help-seeking status, rape myth acceptance was consistently associated with ambivalent sexism and vice versa. Implications for future research and clinical application are discussed.