Disclosure of Traumatic Details and Obsessive-Compulsive Contamination Symptoms in Sexual Assault Survivors

Caitlin M. Pinciotti, Rose Luehrs, Gregor Horvath, Lindsay M. Orchowski, Christal L. Badour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Contamination concerns are common following sexual victimization and are associated with increased attentional bias and difficulty disengaging from contamination cues. While most survivors of sexual trauma disclose their experience to others, it is unclear whether disclosure increases feelings of contamination or whether, consistent with the fever model of disclosure, existing contamination-related distress increases the amount of content shared during disclosure, indicative of attentional bias toward contamination-inducing aspects of the trauma memory. Method: Accordingly, the current study examined the directionality and relationships between contamination symptoms and content shared during sexual assault disclosure in 106 sexual assault survivors (76.4% women). Forced decision regression with subsequent independence test (RESIT) was used to identify directionality of relationships, and multivariate and linear regressions examined these proposed effects in the presence of assault and demographic characteristics. Results: More severe contamination symptoms predicted greater sharing of details during sexual assault disclosure yet had no impact on sharing of emotions, cognitions, and beliefs during disclosures. Although RESIT suggested that contrary to other content domains, disclosure of social experiences may directionally predict contamination symptoms, this relationship did not retain statistical significance in a linear regressionmodel. Conclusions: Findings support the fevermodel of disclosure and attentional bias theories regarding contamination-related stimuli, and suggest that survivors experiencing postassault contamination symptoms may be more likely fixate on the contamination-invoking details of the trauma memory when disclosing. Such fixation has the potential to interfere with typical treatmentrelated processes (e.g., habituation) and should be thoughtfully addressed to maximize treatment gains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)522-531
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 18 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Psychological Association


  • contamination
  • disclosure
  • sexual assault

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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