Publication Date

Spring 2020

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Amy M. Brausch (Director), Jenni Teeters, and Matthew Woodward

Degree Program

Department of Psychological Sciences

Degree Type

Master of Science


Sexual victimization is a pervasive public health concern that disproportionately affects college students and results in severe mental and physical health risks for survivors. Despite low prevalence rates in the general population, a national study found that 33% of survivors of rape reported suicidal ideation, and 13% actually made a suicide attempt (Kilpatrick et al., 1992). Although it is clear that survivors of sexual violence are at increased risk for suicide, knowledge is largely limited to epidemiological studies. Few studies have integrated theories of suicide to understand how and why this population is at such elevated risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. This study aimed to investigate applicability of the Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicide (IPTS) to suicide risk in survivors of sexual victimization. The hypotheses of the IPTS were applied to a sample of survivors of sexual assault. This study also analyzed time sequence of first sexual assault and onset of suicidal thoughts and behavior. Participants were 756 college students with an average age of 20.65 years (SD = 2.04), with 320 participants reporting at least one experience of sexual victimization since the age of 14.

First, results indicated that survivors of sexual assault were more likely than those without a history of sexual assault to report past-year suicide ideation and at least one suicide attempt in their lifetime. Secondly, results indicated that the hypotheses of the IPTS were partially supported in that perceived burdensomeness positively predicted past year suicide ideation, but thwarted belongingness was not a significant predictor. Also, perceived burdensomeness interacted with acquired capability to positively predict past suicide attempts. The interaction of perceived burdensomeness and acquired capability indicated that more frequent suicide attempts were reported when both perceived burdensomeness and acquired capability were high. Thwarted belongingness did not interact with acquired capability to predict suicide attempts. Finally, results indicated that onset of suicidal thoughts and behaviors before first experience of sexual victimization was more frequently reported than after first experience of sexual victimization, but this difference was no statistically significant. Future research should integrate interpersonal factors related to trauma symptoms in order to explicate the differential roles of perceived burdensomeness and thwarted belongingness in survivors of sexual assault who experience suicidal thoughts and behaviors.


Counseling | Psychology | Public Health