"Violence is Everywhere": Childhood Polyvictimization, Perceptions of the Prevalence of Victimization, and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms


Childhood polyvictimization is related to a heightened risk for mental health and functional problems in young adulthood, including posttraumatic stress symptoms, but little research has examined how perceptions of the prevalence of victimization may contribute to specific symptoms of posttraumatic stress. The primary aims of the current study were to (a) evaluate the accuracy of young adults' beliefs about the prevalence of multiple types of childhood victimization and (b) determine how inaccurate appraisals of victimization prevalence are associated with posttraumatic stress symptoms. College students (n = 369) drawn from two geographic regions of the United States responded to an online survey assessing their experiences of childhood victimization, perceptions about the prevalence of victimization, emotion regulation skills, and mental health. Childhood polyvictimization was significantly and positively related to distorted appraisals of the prevalence of victimization overall (r = .26, p < .001), and emotion regulation was associated with symptoms of posttraumatic stress in all domains. Distorted perceptions of the prevalence of victimization were linked to higher symptoms of hyperarousal, but not to higher symptoms of reexperiencing, avoidance, or negative mood/cognition. Results suggest that emotion regulation skills training is likely to be beneficial for many individuals experiencing posttraumatic stress, and intervention around perceptions of the prevalence of victimization may be useful for addressing symptoms of hyperarousal.

Publication Title

Violence and victims