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Abstract

Considerable research suggests that social support plays a crucial role in coping with stressful life events. The present study used data from 3,132 randomly selected survey respondents to investigate the use and helpfulness of seven potential social support sources in coping with a particular life crisis: sexual assault. About two-thirds of the 447 sexually assaulted respondents had told someone about the assault. Over half had talked to a friend or relative (59.3%). Fewer respondents consulted police (10.5%), mental health professionals (16.1%), physicians (9.3%), clergy (3.9%), rape crisis centers (1.9%), and legal professionals (1.6%). Assault by a stranger, physical threat, fighting against the assailant, a high degree of sexual contact, and emotional distress concerning the assault were associated with talking about the assault, especially with police and physicians. Most of those who told someone found at least one person helpful (73.8%). Rape crisis centers (94.2%) and legal professionals (82.7%) were most frequently described as helpful, followed by mental health professionals (70.1%), friends and relatives (66.6%), clergy (63.1%), physicians (55.6%), and police (38.2%). Results are compared to previous findings, and implications for research and intervention are discussed.