Date of Award

January 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling Psychology & Community Services

First Advisor

Kara B. Wettersten

Second Advisor

Rhea L. Owens


Those who experience sexual violence face numerous barriers in gaining access to resources. Additionally, choosing to seek help following an unwanted sexual experience is a difficult decision that is impacted by attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control. The Theory of Planned Behavior addresses how these variables can help explain one’s intent to seek help following an unwanted sexual experience. Seeking help following an unwanted sexual experience has also been suggested to be increasingly difficult for those in rural communities due to additional barriers such as: fear of community and family backlash, lack of anonymity, fear of perpetrator(s) discovering services are being sought, heightened traditional gender norms, and increased acceptance of patriarchal attitudes. Unwanted sexual experiences and a lack of access to resources is also suggested to effect sexual health, mental health, and overall well-being. Given this, the current study used the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) to understand rural and non-rural persons’ intentions to seek help related to sexual violence. Specifically, the relationship between attitudes, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control (PBC), help-seeking intentions, and help-seeking among those who have experienced sexual violence, in a national sample of rural and non-rural populations, was examined with structural equation modeling. The impact of help-seeking on mental health and well-being outcomes was also examined in this model. Results provided support for this model in predicting intentions and help-seeking among those who have experienced sexual violence but did not provide support for differences in help- seeking among rural and non-rural groups. Of the three TPB variables examined – attitudes, subjective norms, and PBC – subjective norms had the strongest, significant relation to intent to seek help, followed by attitudes. PBC had a nonsignificant negative relationship intent to seek help. Intent was the strongest predictor of help-seeking intentions. Lastly, the outcome of depression was found to have significant positive relations with intent and help-seeking. Implications are discussed.

Available for download on Saturday, August 26, 2023