Who has to tell their trauma story and how hard will it be? Influence of cultural stigma and narrative redemption on the storying of sexual violence

Brianna C. Delker, Rowan Salton, Kate C. McLean, Moin Syed

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25 Scopus citations


Although survivors of sexual violence have shared their stories with the public on social media and mass media platforms in growing numbers, less is known about how general audiences perceive such trauma stories. These perceptions can have profound consequences for survivor mental health. In the present experimental, vignette-based studies, we anticipated that cultural stigma surrounding sexual violence and cultural preference for positive (redemptive) endings to adversity in the United States (U.S.) would shape perceptions. Four samples of U.S. adults (N = 1872) rated first-person narratives of 6 more stigmatizing (i.e., sexual violence) or less stigmatizing (e.g., natural disaster) traumatic events. Confirming pre-registered hypotheses, sexual violence trauma (versus other types of trauma) stories were perceived as more difficult to tell, and their storytellers less likeable, even when they had redemptive endings. Disconfirming other pre-registered hypotheses, redemptive (versus negative) story endings did not boost the perceived likelihood or obligation to share a sexual violence trauma story. Rather, redemptive (versus negative) story endings only boosted the perceived likelihood, obligation, and ease of telling other, less stigmatizing types of trauma stories. Findings suggest that sexual violence survivors do not benefit, to the same degree as other survivors, from telling their stories with the culturally valued narrative template of redemption. Clinical and societal implications of the less receptive climate for sexual violence stories are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0234201
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
BCD and KCM received a research grant from Western Washington University?s Center for Cross-Cultural Research (#CRC_Red) and a Manuscript Preparation Grant from Western Washington University?s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (#MF1855). The funders did not play any role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. We wish to thank the associates of the Center for Cross-Cultural Research at Western Washington University for their valuable conversation and feedback during the design phases of this project.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Delker et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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