The many facets of shame in intimate partner sexual violence

ACSSA Research Summary No. 1 – January 2012

Intimate partner sexual violence and shame

The specific, emotional trauma associated with intimate partner sexual violence is significant and is highlighted in multiple studies across the literature. A key finding is that feelings of shame and trauma are intensified when sexual assault is perpetrated by an intimate partner compared to a stranger (Culbertson & Dehle, 2001; Parkinson, 2008; Temple, Weston, Rodriguez, & Marshall, 2007). Intimate partner sexual violence has been found to have greater negative effects on victims than physical violence alone (Bennice & Resick, 2003; Guggisberg, 2010; Heenan, 2004). Where an intimate partner is the perpetrator, the victim can be exposed to multiple sexual assaults in a relatively short time period (Mahoney, 1999). Feelings of shame may be elevated by the frequency and ongoing nature of the attacks. Mahoney analysed data from the US National Crime Victimisation Survey. The study compared how the number of attacks and responses to sexual assault differ according to the relationship between the offender and victim in assaults, where the woman was 18 or older at the time of the attack. The study showed that victim/survivors of marital sexual assault were 10 times more likely to experience multiple attacks than victim/survivors of sexual assault perpetrated by acquaintances or strangers. Despite the repeated victimisation, help-seeking behaviour by intimate partner sexual violence victim/survivors was lower than those where the perpetrators were not partners (Mahoney, 1999). This indicates something about the nature of intimate partner sexual violence which acts as a barrier to help-seeking and which may intensify the sense of shame. This will be explored further below when considering the impact of shame in victim silence.