Contrasts Between Male and Female Callers to a Sexual Assault Hotline: A Mixed-Methods Analysis
Telephone hotlines play an important role in providing support for sexual assault survivors and are widely implemented as a service modality; however, little research has been conducted on their utility. Without an accurate depiction of callers, including their needs and requested services, the training for hotline workers remains incomplete. As research of sexual violence has been conducted predominantly on women, evidence-based practice is particularly limited regarding male callers. Despite the fact that sexual violence is not a gendered issue, we know relatively little about males’ experiences.
The purpose of this study is to examine the utilization of a sexual assault hotline to identify and compare the documentation of male and female callers to better understand this understudied population and inform services accordingly. Points of analyses included themes regarding implied beliefs, emotional expressions, contradictions [evidenced by documented beliefs and behaviors], and services requested. As the anonymity of hotline services may further their use by male victim-survivors, hotline documentation offers a needed opportunity for understanding this population.
A retrospective analysis of archival data was performed. Five-years of documented hotline call sheets spanning 2008-2012 comprised the sampling frame (N=1970). All male callers identified as a victim-survivor were selected for analysis (n=58) and a corresponding sample of female victim-survivors (n=58) was randomly selected for comparison. Each author reviewed the narrative portions of hotline call sheets to identify documented: “beliefs about self,” “beliefs about others,” “emotions expressed/experienced,” “services requested/needs,” and “contradictions.” Quantitative variables routinely documented by the agency were also examined.
Data revealed differences between male and female hotline users in each category identified for analysis, including distinctions regarding: the use of social support, service-seeking behavior, vocalized intentions to self-harm, interpretation of what constitutes sexual assault, and emotions expressed. For example, a qualitative theme for female callers was the active pursuit of a wide variety of services, whereas male callers did not notably request services beyond counseling and exhibited consistent hesitation, such as abrupt hang-ups. This result was reinforced with a statistically significant measure of whether a referral was provided on the call (i.e., yes or no), with females more likely to receive referrals than males (χ2=5.33, df=1, N=116, p<.05). Male callers also described a distrust for others and a sense of isolation, whereas female callers notably confided in others (i.e., friends and family) before accessing the hotline. Details of these and multiple other themes will be presented with rich description, including how themes were derived and explanations for how this data source was managed for limitations.
This study is a first step in understanding the experience of male victim-survivors and their interaction with hotline services. Implications for practice include arming hotline staff with knowledge to better equip responses that are uniquely empathetic, normalizing, and informed of common cognitions and emotions expressed by male victim-survivors. Efforts at the point of hotline contact are a critical opportunity that may encourage further help-seeking behavior by this underserved population.