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Sexual Assault During and After Separation/Divorce: An Exploratory Study

NCJ Number
Date Published
145 pages

This federally supported report presents the results of a qualitative, exploratory study of separation/divorce sexual assault among women.


The results of the study suggest that exiting or trying to exit a marital/cohabiting relationship increases women’s chances of being sexually assaulted, especially if they are connected to patriarchal or abusive men. Key findings are categorized under the headings of: types and timing of abuse; characteristics of men who sexually assaulted their ex-partners; consequences of separation/divorce sexual assault; and social support. Highlights of these key findings include: (1) virtually all respondents experienced rape or attempted rape; (2) 74 percent said they were sexually assaulted when they expressed a desire to leave, 49 percent were sexually abused while trying to leave or while leaving, and 33 percent were victimized after they left; (3) 79 percent of the respondents said their partners believed that men should be in charge and in control of domestic household settings; (4) women experienced a wide range of negative outcomes, such as low self-esteem, fear, and physical health problems; (5) for many, exiting the relationship was financially devastating; and (6) most respondents turned to several different sources of social support. Prior research indicates that breaking with a violent man significantly increases a women’s risk of experiencing violence. In addition, research has focused mainly on physical violence and been conducted in urban areas. However, little attention has been given to the victimization of women who want to leave, are in the process of leaving, or have left their marital/cohabiting partners. Interviews were conducted with 43 women, 18 years or older in rural Ohio, who had ever had any type of unwanted sexual experience when they wanted to end, were trying to end, or after they had ended a relationship with a husband or live-in male partner. Appendixes A and B and references

Date Published: January 1, 2006