Social reactions and women’s decisions to report sexual assault to law enforcement.

Author(s): 
DePrince, A.P., Wright, N., Gagnon, K.L., Srinivas, T., & Labus, J. (2019).
Source: 
Violence Against Women, 1 – 18.
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Summary: 

The current study addressed the dearth of research on links between the social reactions women received from community-based providers and informal supports, and reporting to law enforcement.  Findings showed that law enforcement reporting was associated with having received more positive reactions (tangible aid) and less negative reactions (distraction, being treated differently) from informal supports and more tangible aid and less emotional support from community-based providers.

Expanded Abstract: 

Sexual assault remains one of the most under-reported crimes, with only a minority of women who have been sexually assaulted reporting the incident to law enforcement (Wolitzky-Taylor et al., 2011).  To date, research on sexual assault reporting has focused on women’s reasons for reporting to law enforcement as well as women’s demographic characteristics and characteristics of the sexual assault. Relatively little is known about women’s reporting decisions in relation to the social reactions or responses they receive when they disclose their victimization to community-based providers or informal supports (e.g., friends, family). When women disclose sexual assault, they may receive positive responses (e.g., tangible aid or emotional support) and/or negative reactions (e.g., victim blaming) from others (Ullman, 2010).   Better understanding of these links between social reactions and reporting decisions could inform public education programs as well as community-coordinated responses to sexual assault, which bring together criminal justice and community-based professionals (Greeson & Campbell, 2013). 

This study explored report patterns among 213 diverse women who had disclosed a recent sexual assault to a community-based provider.  Study researchers first tested associations between demographic (i.e., age, ethnicity/race, sexual orientation, education level) and sexual assault characteristics (i.e., severity of the sexual assault, relationship to perpetrator), and reporting to law enforcement. Results showed that greater tangible aid from both informal supports as well as community-based providers was associated with reporting sexual assault to law enforcement. In other words, law enforcement reporting was associated with having received more positive reactions (tangible aid) and less negative reactions (distraction, being treated differently) from informal supports and more tangible aid and less emotional support from community-based providers. Tangible aid from community-based providers also predicted law enforcement reporting over the subsequent 9 months among women who had not initially reported.

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