Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 0(0), 1 – 20.
This review examined RCC advocacy, perceptions and impact of advocacy, and challenges and facilitators to effective service provision. Findings showed that advocacy is multi-faceted, beneficial, and challenging. While advocates are generally regarded positively by survivors and responders, some responders had concerns that advocates sometimes report victim-blaming and being ill-equipped to meet survivors’ need. Advocates reported that they face specific challenges in their work with survivors and responders.
Sexual assault (SA) is associated with a variety of negative consequences for survivors’ physical and mental wellbeing (Pemberton & Loeb, 2020). The trauma and impact of SA may be exacerbated when survivors are met with negative reactions upon disclosure (e.g., Martin, 2005).
Rape crisis centers (RCCs) were developed in the 1970s through grassroots efforts to improve the response to SA (Shaw &Campbell, 2011). Rape crisis centers initially aimed to both support survivors
and demand social change to eliminate rape. Today, RCCs typically offer crisis hotlines, advocacy, long-term counseling, and support groups (Bein, 2000.). Rape crisis centers may also participate in multidisciplinary efforts to coordinate how formal systems respond to SA, such as Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs; Greeson & Campbell, 2015). Many RCCs also lead community education efforts to prevent and raise awareness of sexual violence (Office on Violence Against Women, 2017).
While rape crisis center (RCC) advocacy is generally regarded as valuable, there are no prior systematic reviews of the advocacy literature (a systematic review is a summary of the literature on a particular topic that uses specific research methods to systematically search, critically appraise, and synthesize a specific issue). This review examined RCC advocacy service provision, perceptions and impact of advocacy, and challenges and facilitators to effective service provision. Databases related to health and social sciences were searched including the key search engines: Academic Search Complete, PsychINFO, PubMed, CINAHL, ProQuest, Science Direct, OAlster, WorldCat, and MEDLINE. Empirical articles written in English that examined RCC advocacy service provision and/or impact in the US were included. Forty-five articles met criteria, were summarized, and double checked.
Findings of this literature review demonstrate that sexual assault-related advocacy is multi-faceted, beneficial, and challenging. Advocates work directly with survivors and interact with other responders on behalf of survivors. Advocates provide emotional support, safety planning, support to aid survivors in decision-making and assistance to facilitate survivors’ access of other systems.
While advocates are generally regarded positively by survivors and responders, some responders have concerns about advocates. In addition, advocates sometimes report victim-blaming and being ill-equipped to meet survivors’ needs. Finally, advocates face specific challenges in their work with survivors and responders.
Future research using diverse methodological approaches is needed to understand advocacy utilization and reach; survivors’ perceptions of advocacy; marginalized survivors’ experiences; connections between specific services, implementation, and outcomes; and effective strategies for advocates’ interactions with other responders. Additional resources to help advocates serve all survivors effectively and equitably; to support evaluator-practitioner partnerships; and to share unpublished data on advocacy may help contribute to improvements in advocacy practice.