Research has established that sexual trauma is a prevalent social problem that impacts a substantial portion of the population and involves symptoms of posttraumatic stress, anxiety, depression, the abuse of alcohol and drugs, problems with emotional regulation, and dissociation (Craner, et al., 2015), suggesting a need to implement effective community-based approaches to preventing sexual violence (McMahon & Farmer, 2009). The strengths-based approach is among the most applicable, as it emphasizes existing community resources and abilities (Busch-Armendariz et al., 2014), which is important, as several prevention efforts have been deficit-based in treating groups at risk of becoming sex offenders as potential criminals, which can increases defenses to preventative interventions (McMahon & Farmer, 2009). Thus a systematic review was conducted to explore strengths-based approaches to preventing sexual trauma within communities and to identify implications for social work research and practice.
A systematic review of peer-reviewed scholarly literature was conducted using the search words “strengths,” “strengths-based,” “resilience,” “rape,” “sex abuse,” “sexual assault,” “sexual violence,” “sex,” “assault,” “trauma,” “trafficking,” and “prevention” to locate articles within EBSCO, Sage Journals, Ohio Link, and Science Direct databases. Peer-reviewed articles were deemed eligible if their focus involved strengths-based approaches to preventing sexual trauma within the community. Nine scholarly articles met this criteria and were included in the review.
Findings suggest that social work involvement is integral in developing community prevention strategies, particularly in consideration of culture, nationality, age, and past victimization (Busch-Armendariz et al., 2014). Furthermore, when working to address bystander behavior related to sexual violence, existing community strengths should be identified and maximized (McMahon & Farmer, 2009). For example, in higher education settings, social workers can capitalize on the culture of team sports by approaching sexual violence as a community issue that impacts everyone and encouraging team captains to motivate athletes to engage in bystander behavior, as research has demonstrated that the bystander approach has been effective in preventing sexual assault (McMahon & Farmer, 2009).
Additionally, researchers should include community members in the development of sex abuse awareness and education initiatives and such programs should involve resources for helping adults educate their children on personal safety, as the benefits of this education and parental capacity to help promote it have been established (Calvert & Munsie-Benson, 1999). Moreover, studies focused on addressing the needs of adolescents who run away from home are especially needed, as this at-risk population is particularly underserved (Edinburgh & Saewyc, 2009). Finally, a resilience-based framework should be used to evaluate factors that encourage a substance free lifestyle and such preventative efforts should aim to address stigma and oppression (Burnes et al., 2012).
This systematic review provides an overview of the ways sexual trauma can be prevented within the community. Results demonstrate the need for social work researchers and practitioners to work with other community stakeholders to develop and evaluate individual, bystander and community-level approaches to expanding upon existing strengths to foster greater identification of risks, safety and resource promotion in efforts to combat sexual trauma within the communities they serve.