HEALING OR HURTFUL: SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVORS' INTERPRETATIONS OF SOCIAL REACTIONS FROM SUPPORT PROVIDERS

Authors


  • Courtney E. Ahrens, Department of Psychology, California State University at Long Beach; Giannina Cabral, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University; Samantha Abeling, Department of Psychology, California State University at Long Beach.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Courtney Ahrens, Department of Psychology, California State University at Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90840. E-mail: cahrens@csulb.edu

Abstract

Sexual assault survivors often receive both positive and negative reactions to the disclosure of their assault. Although positive reactions are typically more common from informal support providers and negative reactions are typically more common from formal support providers, not all formal and informal support providers react the same way. To help clarify the nature of social reactions received from specific support providers, 103 female sexual assault survivors participated in interviews about their disclosure experiences. These interviews resulted in detailed descriptions of 250 disclosure interactions. Results indicated that counselors and friends engaged in the most emotional support, fairly high levels of tangible aid, and fairly low levels of most types of negative reactions. Romantic partners provided only moderate support, the lowest amount of tangible aid, and the highest amount of blame, control, and egocentric behaviors. Romantic partners also treated survivors differently more often than other support providers. Qualitative analysis of survivors' descriptions of these reactions are used to help interpret survivors' ratings of reactions as healing or hurtful.

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