Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




The present study is a cross-sectional and longitudinal examination of psychological adjustment and coping in female undergraduates in response to unwanted sexual intercourse before and during their first year of college. This study represents an important contribution because of its longitudinal and prospective design. It also is one of the first studies to examine the Sense of Coherence (SOC) construct in women reporting unwanted sexual intercourse.

Questionnaires were mailed to the entire class of incoming women at a Northern Plains state university at the beginning of the 1993-94 academic year (N = 778). Over half of these women responded (n = 411) to the first mailing, and the two subsequent mailings netted 249 (63%) and 246 (62%) respondents, respectively. These samples permitted estimates of prevalence and incidence rates of unwanted sexual experiences.

Concurrent prediction using multiple regression- analysis revealed that SOC predicted General Severity Index (GSI) scores from, the Brief Symptom Inventory in women reporting an incident of unwanted sexual intercourse (USI group) prior to beginning college, while incident variables (e.g., degree of force used by the man) did not make significant contributions to the prediction. At the first assessment, the USI group differed from women who denied any type of unwanted sexual contact (NSC group) on their SOC scores and GSI scores, although the latter difference was of questionable clinical significance. This study found that making a distinction on the type of coercion (e.g., verbal vs. physical) did not affect psychological adjustment. It also found that the NSC group's expectations about how they would cope with a sexually coercive event differed from the USI group's actual report of coping behaviors they had used after such an incident. The prospective analysis revealed that only pre-incident GSI scores were able to contribute significantly to the prediction of post- incident GSI among women reporting unwanted sexual intercourse during the course of this study.

These findings emphasize the importance of controlling for pre-incident adjustment when examining adjustment and coping after sexually coercive incidents. It also offers some preliminary evidence that SOC may be an important variable to examine in this population.