Beyond the Force–Substance Dichotomy: Examining the Experience of Combined and Incapacitated Type Rapes and Their Relation to PTSD Symptoms

Amy A. McConnell, Terri L. Messman-Moore, Kim L. Gratz, David DiLillo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Prior research has examined how posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms are influenced by the experience of different types of rape, defined according to the method of coercion used. This work, which classifies rape experiences as either forcible or substance-involved, has yielded mixed findings regarding differences in PTSD symptoms as a function of rape type. Based on recent evidence indicating significant heterogeneity within substance-involved rapes, the present study utilized a novel four-group conceptualization of rape type to examine differences in PTSD symptom severity and associated factors across rape type. Using a sample of 161 community women with experiences of adult rape, we examined four rape types based on method of coercion: forcible-only rape (i.e., involving only force/threat of force; n = 48), impaired rape (i.e., substance-related impairment was present, but the participant remained conscious; n = 56), combined rape (i.e., both force/threat of force and substance-related impairment were present; n = 29), and incapacitated rape (i.e., the participant was intoxicated to the point of unconsciousness; n = 28). We compared these groups on PTSD symptom severity within each symptom cluster, as well as on assault characteristics and consequences, including peritraumatic fear and injury, acknowledgment, and self-blame. Combined type rapes were associated with significantly more severe PTSD symptoms than forcible-only and impaired type rapes. Differences among the groups were also found for peritraumatic fear and injury, and rape acknowledgment. Utilizing a dichotomous approach to rape type overlooks the complexity of women’s experiences. Differences in PTSD symptom severity as a function of the proposed four-group conceptualization of rape type highlight the importance of assessing method of coercion when treating rape-related PTSD. Likewise, differences across rape types in peritraumatic fear and rape acknowledgment highlight the potential utility of type-specific targets of intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5853-5876
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number23-24
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • PTSD
  • adult victims
  • alcohol and drugs
  • sexual assault

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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