Date of Award

Fall 2020

Project Type


Program or Major

Justice Studies

Degree Name

Master of Arts

First Advisor

Sharyn J Potter

Second Advisor

Donna Perkins

Third Advisor

Robert Eckstein


Sexual assault has immediate and long-term physical, mental, economic, and social impacts for survivors (Potter et al., 2018; Kilpatrick et al., 2007; & Sugar et al., 2004). However, there is only a limited understanding of how sexual assault impacts a survivor’s dating behaviors and romantic relationships. Therefore, this study identifies survivors’ perceptions on how sexual assault impacted their romantic relationships. Specifically, it seeks to answer (1) do some survivors avoid romantic relationships and some engage in risky dating? and (2) what types of negative responses do survivors receive when they disclose a sexual assault to a romantic partner? The current study uses Braun and Clarke’s six-phase approach to thematic analysis to examine qualitative interview data from 32 survivors who were sexually assaulted while in college. The following themes were identified: abusive and unhealthy relationships, dating apprehension, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) triggers within intimate relationships, and disclosure to a partner. Sexual assaults impacted romantic relationships in a variety of ways. Many participants were fearful of entering a relationship after the sexual assault. Of those who did enter a relationship, several had altered perceptions of healthy dating behavior and sexuality or experienced PTSD symptoms within the dating relationship. In some cases, dating led to re-victimization. When disclosing a sexual assault to a romantic partner, survivors received negative responses from partners who shamed and belittled the survivor after a sexual assault disclosure or did not know how to respond.