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Feb 04, 2015 12:52 PM EST

New research suggests that religion can help college women who have been sexually victimized deal with distrust.

Women who are sexual victims not only fear their attackers -- or those similar to them -- but often have trouble trusting anyone after being assaulted. However, researchers at Baylor University in Texas found that religion can help them cope and overcome the emotional damage.

An estimated 1 in 5 college women are sexual victims each year, with that number including both violent assault and non-consensual sexual contact, according to recent reports.

 "We hear in the news about all sorts of sexual victimization on campuses across America. It's a huge problem, one that affects people over a long period of time and can result in withdrawing from family and community," researcher Jeffrey Tamburello, a doctoral candidate in sociology, said in a statement. "It's important to find ways for victims to come back to as much of a normal life as they can, and it seems that religious participation can help them do that."

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Prior studies have provided evidence that sexual victimization may lessen trust and has suggested that theological beliefs and taking part in religious organizations may be associated in a positive way with overall trust. In the Baylor study, researchers sought to uncover how these two effects might interact.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the Longitudinal Study of Violence Against Women, with the sample consisting of 1,580 undergraduate women in a state-supported university. In the first wave of the study, researchers asked freshman women whether and how often they attended religious services. In the second, when the women were sophomores, researchers asked participants whether they had been sexually victimized within the past year. The women also were asked about how much they trusted others.

To assess an individual's level of trust, researchers asked respondents the extent to which they agreed with the statement, "Most people are out for themselves. I don't trust them very much."

"What we found is that the more you go to church, the more you trust. It's not just about attendance, but about being embedded in a religious social network and about that being a part of your identity. This might help to mitigate some of the negative effects of being victimized," Tamburello said.

The findings are detailed in the journal Review of Religious Research.

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