Year of Publication


Date of Thesis

July 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Occupational Therapy

Subject Categories

Occupational therapy; Rape -- Psychological aspects; Sexual abuse victims


Sensory input is imperative for individuals’ well-being and emotional health (Dunn, 2001). The ability to correctly process incoming sensory information from the environment is integral to engaging in meaningful occupations. But individuals who have difficulty processing incoming stimuli may tend to avoid occupations that are over stimulating due to the inability to modulate their body’s response to sensory input. Trauma, such as sexual assault, is known to significantly alter an individual’s processing of the environment around them (Schumacher et al., 2013). To date, no studies were found in the literature to determine if there is a difference in the way these individuals engage in their everyday occupations. It is hypothesized that, as a result of sexual assault, an individual may alter their participation in everyday occupations. This change in behavior may lead to significant difficulty in accomplishing activities of daily living, social participation and leisure activities. Increasing the individual’s knowledge about sensory processing may allow the survivor to better understand their personal sensory preferences following the assault (Brown, 2001). Providing survivors of sexual assault with a working knowledge of sensory integration may be a useful step in the recovery process. Occupational therapy may be a central part of recovery for the individual who is experiencing difficulty regulating their sensory system due to sexual assault. By working closely with individuals who have experienced trauma during their recovery process from sexual assault, occupational therapists may be able to facilitate adaptive responses and coping mechanisms to empower the individual to effectively integrate noxious stimuli. Therefore, the occupational therapist can work to improve the individuals’ occupational functioning and regain satisfaction in their daily routines by gaining an in-depth understanding of their psychosomatic symptoms and developing appropriate coping strategies. This study explored how individuals who had experienced trauma engage in occupations and if individuals who have reported a history of sexual assault have altered participation in occupations that require touch. A pilot instrument was created to analyze college student’s engagement in occupations. Results were categorized in indices to isolate different areas of touch. 57 participants who had been sexually assaulted and 347 participants had not been participated in the study. Results indicate that sexual assault, not other forms of trauma like mugging or car accidents, had a statistically significant effect on an individual’s participation in everyday occupations.



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