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Negative Social Support for Sexual Assault Victims Leads to PTSD

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by batgirl, May 15, 2007.

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  1. batgirl

    batgirl I'm a VIP

    A recent survey conducted at UIC suggests that negative social reactions, self-blame and avoidance coping are strongly correlated to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in victims of sexual assault. Professor Sarah Ullman, along with graduate students Stephanie Townsend, Henrietta Filipas and Laura Starzynski of the criminal justice department at UIC, discovered that assault victims who have negative social reactions with those whom they reach out to for support have a greater chance of experiencing self-blame and avoidance coping.

    According to Ullman, "this research advances our understanding by showing that recovery from sexual assault is not only affected by the individual victim's behaviors after the assault, but also by the ways that people around her respond to the assault."

    Eighteen percent of women will experience attempted or completed sexual assault in their lives, according to Tjaden and Thoennes in a study conducted for the U.S. Department of Justice. Of this 18 percent, 31 percent will then experience symptoms of PTSD after their attack. These symptoms have been found to be-at least partly-the result of a lack of social support. Even though these women may have an abundance of social support when coping with life's daily issues, their support system may fail when it is time to provide "assault-specific support." The social support that is present, however, can often be negative support, including being blamed for the attack, being treated differently after the attack and even disbelief of the attack.

    To better understand the assault, victims often try to make sense of why the attack occurred. If a victim's social network blames him or her for the attack, he or she could be led into blaming him/herself for the attack. These negative social reactions, not only lead to self-blame, but can also lead to avoidance coping.

    Often, the severity of the assault can play a role in both who a victim reaches out to for support and the amount of negative reactions a victim will receive from that support. Attacks with a higher degree of severity are associated with more negative social reactions but less self-blame. This suggests that victims of "real rape" (a violent assault; that is, an attack that conforms to the social stereotypes of rape) may be reaching out for more social support, yet receiving a greater number of negative reactions.

    Ullman's research suggests that appropriate social support is necessary to prevent assault victims from suffering from PTSD. By avoiding negative support and providing positive support, such as listening and believing, a victim's chances of suffering from PTSD disorder may be decreased.

    As Vicky DiProva, executive director of Rape Victim Advocates in Chicago explained, the best thing you can do is "believe the victim...and support them in their decisions."

    Source: Janet Moulis, Chicago Flame
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