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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An investigation of trauma and its cognitive and emotional consequences in prostituted victims of sexual crimes Griesel, Dorothee


The present research is a field investigation of trauma and its cognitive and emotional consequences. One hundred and nineteen sex trade workers were interviewed about sexually traumatic experiences. The primary focus of this research was an examination of the quantity and quality of memory for sexual trauma. Various predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors were examined regarding their influence on memory and posttraumatic stress. One objective of this study was to test certain assumptions of the biopsychosocial model of eyewitness memory (Hervé, Cooper, & Yuille, 2007), which proposes that individuals differ along a continuum of arousal sensitivity and predicts the quantity and quality of recall. Up to three types of memory narratives were elicited from each participant: (a) one positive event (b) one well-remembered sexual assault, and (c) one sexual assault for which the participant had poor recollection. Each memory was assessed for peritraumatic and posttraumatic factors. The participants also filled out a number of individual differences measures. The results indicated that the participants had extensive histories of trauma, many of which began in their childhood. It was shown that well-remembered sexual assaults contained more narrative details than memories of positive events and less-well-remembered sexual assaults. Such variability of memory for sexual violence is in line with Hervé et al.'s model as well as other field studies of traumatic memory. This was the first study to demonstrate such variability within-subjects. Various moderating factors of memory were examined, for example, dissociation and different symptoms of posttraumatic stress. Some of the findings were at odds with traditional theories, laboratory findings, and certain assumptions held by many eyewitness memory experts regarding the relationship between stress and memory. A second objective of this dissertation was to examine predictors of post traumatic stress disorder. The findings largely confirmed the literature. Men and women did not differ in their levels of posttraumatic stress. Overall, the complexity of clinical symptoms in survivors of repeated sexual violence is highlighted. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for theory development, future research, the criminal justice system, and in terms of their relevance for treatment providers and assessors.

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