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Perceived personality traits and presumptions of vulnerability to victimization in women

Jayme Stewart (Psychology Department, The University of British Columbia – Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada)
Audrey Smodis (Psychology Department, Carleton University, Otawa, Canada)
Adelle Forth (Psychology Department, Carleton University, Otawa, Canada)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 5 May 2022

Issue publication date: 19 May 2022




In women, having a history of sexual victimization has been linked to certain personality traits (e.g. low levels of assertiveness) and nonverbal behaviors (e.g. fewer head movements). The majority of research in this area, however, has considered how self-reported personality traits and gait relate to victimization. As such, the present study aims to examine how observers’ perceptions of personality impact judgments of targets’ vulnerability to sexual and violent victimization, and how the nonverbal behaviors used when making these judgments may vary depending on perceived personality traits.


A total of 309 participants watched eight audio-less videos of a woman speaking. Following each video, participants rated each woman on varying personality and emotionality traits, as well as their perception of how vulnerable the woman was to future victimization, and how they came to their decision according to a number of predetermined nonverbal cues.


Consistent with previous research, observers’ perceptions of sexual vulnerability were negatively related to perceptions of targets’ self-esteem and confidence, and positively related to anxiety. While violent vulnerability displayed a similar pattern of results, the nonverbal behaviors cited during the vulnerability appraisal process varied between personality traits. Though few results emerged within the latter query, anxiety exhibited the majority of all significant relationships, including being positively associated with facial expressions and upper and lower body movements.


Results suggest that different behavioral and personality interventions (e.g. increasing self-esteem) may serve to increase self-efficacy, autonomy and confidence, as well as help women feel more in control of their destiny and interpersonal communications.



The authors would like to thank Julie Blais for her help with the methodology for this study.


Stewart, J., Smodis, A. and Forth, A. (2022), "Perceived personality traits and presumptions of vulnerability to victimization in women", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 12 No. 1/2, pp. 12-25.



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