Abstract: Why Rape Survivors Participate in the Criminal Justice System (Society for Social Work and Research 15th Annual Conference: Emerging Horizons for Social Work Research)

13986 Why Rape Survivors Participate in the Criminal Justice System

Sunday, January 16, 2011: 8:45 AM
Meeting Room 8 (Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Debra Patterson, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI and Rebecca Campbell, PhD, Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Purpose: Research has found that few survivors report their assaults to the police and of those who do report, many withdraw their participation during the investigation (Kilpatrick, Resnick, Ruggiero, Conoscenti, & McCauley, 2007). However, little is known about the factors that lead survivors to participate in the criminal justice system (CJS), and how other community services (e.g., advocacy) may also help encourage survivor engagement. In the current study, 20 survivors who reported their victimizations to police within a large Midwest County were interviewed about the factors that influenced their involvement in the CJS. Further, we examined the role that formal supports (e.g., advocates, nurses) played in their participation.

Method: In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 female adults about the factors that influenced reporting to and participating in the CJS. Data analysis proceeded in two phases. First, two analysts developed open codes (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) that captured key thematic content in the survivors' narratives. In the second phase, we used Erickson's (1986) analytic induction method for data analysis, which is an iterative procedure for developing and testing empirical assertions in qualitative research.

Results: Almost half of the survivors reported the victimization on their own accord to prevent the offender from raping again. But, more than half of the survivors in this study were hesitant about or had no intentions of reporting because they feared law enforcement or their own social support network would not believe them. These concerns could have prevented the survivors from reporting if informal and formal supports did not become involved. In some cases, these supports encouraged reporting, offered emotional support, and believed them. Subsequently, these survivors decided to contact the police. However, some supports did not discuss the option of reporting with survivors but instead, made the choice to report, which resulted in survivors feeling a loss of control. Similar to our findings regarding reporting, this study found that preventing the offender from committing additional rapes influenced many survivors to continue participating. This motivation to prevent further victimizations was so strong that some survivors continued to participate even when they were treated in a hurtful manner by law enforcement. This study also found that formal supports can play a key role in survivor participation in the CJS by discussing survivors concerns and offering solutions.

Conclusions and Implications: The findings suggest that informal social supports serve as a bridge between survivors and the CJS, and formal supports play an important role in survivors continuing their participation. However, research has found that many support providers may not provide emotional support, and may engage in blaming behaviors (Ahrens, Cabral, & Abeling, 2009). As a result, survivors may blame themselves and discontinue participation. Training support providers including future social workers on how to effectively support survivors may reduce negative responses such as blaming and may increase the likelihood that survivors seek help from community agencies including the CJS. The authors will elaborate on these implications for social work education and practice.