Most Victim/Survivors of Sexual Violence Do Not Seek Professional Supports

(statistics from Kathleen Daly, 2011)

As the above diagram indicates, the vast majority of victim/survivors of sexual violence do not report to the police. Mouzos and Makkai (2004) found only 16% of women who experienced intimate partner violence and only 9% of those who experienced non-partner violence subsequently contacted an agency. Those who do disclose sexual violence mostly disclose to friends.

Jill Astbury (2006) summarises work by Dr Denise Lievore  (2003) regarding barriers to reporting sexual assault:

Personal barriers to disclosure include:

  • Shame, embarrassment
  • Regarding it as a private matter
  • Not thinking what has happened is a crime or not thinking it is serious enough to report to police
  • Not wanting anyone else to know
  • Self blame or fearing blame by others for the attack
  • Dealing with it themselves
  • Wanting to protect the perpetrator, the relationship or children

Barriers at the level of the justice system include:

  • Believing that the police would not or could not do anything or would not think it was serious enough
  • Fear of not being believed or being treated with hostility
  • Fear of the police and/or the legal process
  • Lack of proof that the incident occurred
  • Not knowing how to report
  • Doubt that the justice system will provide redress

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Amanda Paton

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Geographical and cultural barriers

  • Lack of specialist services and qualified staff
  • Communities with a culture of self-reliance and coping
  • Psychological isolation arising out of physical isolation
  • Some issues above like privacy and fear of police/welfare systems more pounced
  • See: Wall & Stathopoulos (2012) for Sexual Assault Service Provision in Regional, Rural and remote Australia and Dorinda Cox (2008) for Working with Indigenous survivors of sexual assault

Some women, who have been sexually assaulted, including the legal definition of rape, do not recognise or name this as sexual assault. Astbury (2006) points out that these women are likely to still have a range of psychological, physical and social consequences which they would probably not associate with the assault. She also points out that delays and failure to access services reduces and denies the benefits associated with these services.

Implications for the advocacy role

If advocacy is about providing and facilitating a voice for those who have the smallest voice then advocates need to be pro-active and creative to reach out to those who are silenced by fear and perceived or real lack of resources and services.

Providing social inclusion, equality, social justice, and promoting the rights of and services for the 85% of sexual assault victim/survivors who do not disclose to services is challenging. However, the information below aims to provide front line workers with a broad range of ways to advocate for and service this large group of victim/survivors:

  • Make their own services more know and accessible through:
    – local promotions
    – linking with a range of local agencies
    – ensuring your agency is listed on state and national databases and help line resources.
  • Work on reputation enhancement – particularly around confidentiality, being victim/survivor focused, providing practical assistance and options
  • Provide specialist support to generic agencies
  • Provide or advocate for services which do not rely on disclosing sexual violence
  • Provide support to the supporters (family, friends and generic health and welfare service providers)
  • Advocate for preventative programs such as community awareness, protective behaviour programs, anti-violence and social inclusion
  • Well serviced metropolitan and regional centres work creatively with rural and remote communities to provide innovative options and responses

The first step is simply to acknowledge that the largest and often most disempowered and disadvantaged victim/survivors of sexual assault are those that service providers are unaware of. Inclusion of this group within legitimate advocacy role boundaries allows for brainstorming, research and creative solutions to meet their special needs.

Some more ideas

Below are a sample of some of the creative solutions from the NSW Rape Crisis Centre.  Many other ideas can be discovered by visiting the Crisis Support agency weblinks. The following are provided to stimulate further exploration and discussion.

All the options below are available from the NSW Rape Crisis Centre’s home page.

Two videos to stimulate more possibilities.

NSW Rape Crisis Centre 30 second advertisement:

WA Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) 2 min “walk through” or Josh’s Story

Screening by health service providers for sexual violence

Liz Wal (2012) in her paper Asking women about intimate partner sexual violence, promotes selective screening by health care providers for intimate partner sexual violence.

Click here for (2007) Screening Patients for Sexual Violence: An Accredited Curriculum for Nurses in Pennsylvania (includes a downloadable CD ROM)

Proactive Follow-up or ‘Cold Calling’:

An opportunity for engagement

In Tasmania, family violence reports to police, courts and child protection are followed up with a cold call by the Family Violence Counselling and Support Services (FVCSS). Feedback indicates recipients of this service experience it as being empowering.

Computer Connections

Sexual violence is a very private matter. Computers offer easy access and privacy and are used by A LOT of people.  Click here for a comprehensive review  of on-line counselling support for victim/survivors of sexual violence by M. Forgan (2011) commissioned by SECASA and RMIT.

In addition e-Learning and reading materials, reflective assessments and quizzes, informative games and staying connected through email, e-Newsletters and surveys are all positive resources.Computers also offer other connection and support options:

  • Online peer support for survivors of sexual assault (Burrows, 2011) research report with links to peer support chat rooms (from  SECASA).
  • Rape Crisis Online real time, on-line, person to person chat service (from NSW Rape Crisis Centre).
  • MensLine Australia offer video counselling via Skype in addition to online chat and telephone services
  • Love is respect chat 24/7 live chat with a volunteer peer advocate (40 hours training)
  • YouTube videos – SECASA has over 50 videos.
  • Social Media (2015) and Social Media (2014) These toolkit explores how social media tools can help spread awareness and advocate for social change. Daily posts for Twitter and conversation starters for Facebook promote online involvement in various Sexual Assault Awareness Campaigns.
    Click here
    for more on Social Media information. While there are some risks associated with social media, there are far more opportunities to engage and service the vast majority of victim/survivors of sexual assault who would not otherwise come forward.

Mobile Phones

The majority of  phones are now able to do much of what computers can do and more. There are many practical applications for use in therapy including safety (speed dial emergency numbers), uploading videos and reading material, using video / or voice recording for relaxation exercises, affirmations or protective behaviour messages for children. Calendars are great to help remember appointments and tasks. Agencies can also send reminder text messages to service users.

The message simple – consider searching your app store and/or Google for apps related to providing for victim/survivors of sexual violence.  If you have a great idea for a phone, consider creating your own app.

Mobile Apps

  • Daniel Morcombe Foundation Help Me sends a help txt to two or more pre-determined people including GPS information.  Several other features such as alarm sound, tips for young people, easy recording of details…
  • Sexual Assault Report Anonymously  allows users to anonymously report sexual assault to the South Eastern Center Against Sexual Assault
  • RAPE Do Something – Know how to help a friend This free app from the Rape Crisis Network Ireland acknowledges that friends are the most likely people who sexual assault victim/survivors disclose to.
  • The award winning  Circleof6 app below extends the meaning of ‘accessible services’ (1m 36s) …

  • Click here for a more critical review of ‘date rape’ apps

TXT messages

Click the pause button on the player or the refresh button on your web browser when finished

Bystander interventions

  • Click here for a range of bystander intervention resources, including free podcasts and on-line courses.
  • Bystander interventions can occur
    – Before the problem starts: Primary prevention
    – Once the problem has begun: Secondary prevention
    – Responding afterwards: Tertiary prevention
    Click here for more from the Australian Human Rights Commission
  • Click here for a curriculum guide by E. A. Grollman with introductory information and useful activity guides, diagrams and texts useful for handouts and PowerPoint presentations.

Protective behaviours

Standards for accessibility

  • Click here for Standard 4 – Advocacy and support services are publicised and accessible from “Advocacy Standards for working with Children, Young People and Adults who have Experienced Sexual Violence” (Australian).
  • Click here for accessibility standards and indicators from Action for Advocacy (UK).