Abstract: Help-Seeking after Sexual Assault: Family and Cultural Barriers for Latinx Students (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Help-Seeking after Sexual Assault: Family and Cultural Barriers for Latinx Students

Friday, January 18, 2019: 11:15 AM
Union Square 20 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
M. Candace Christensen, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX

The purpose of this study is to examine Latinx college student perceptions about sexual violence, particularly barriers to help-seeking after experiencing sexual violence. Research has mainly overlooked the Latinx college student population and created a disparity in understanding how sexual violence impacts this group (Cuevas & Chiara, 2010). Latinx women have low rates of disclosure of experiences with sexual violence (Ahrens et al., 2010). Primary reasons for not disclosing include cultural norms against sharing family secrets, traditional beliefs about gender roles, and rape myth acceptance (Ahrens et al., 2010; Littleton et al., 2007). The research question guiding this study is “What cultural and/or family values act as barriers to seeking help should a student experience sexual violence?”


The methodology that informed the design of this study is social constructivism, with a specific focus on employing grounded theory methods (Charmaz, 2014). The research team conducted five focus groups and five individual interviews (theoretical sampling) with Latinx identified students attending a university in the southwestern United States. The focus groups included 27 women and 8 men. The five interviews included women only. Data analysis methods included a) line-by-line analysis of data segments, b) coding with gerunds, c) recoding with focused codes, and d) developing categories.


The overarching category that emerged from the data analysis was “Avoiding Shame”. The subcategories include a) prioritizing the family, b) prizing virginity, and c) staying out of trouble. Avoiding shame refers to efforts students employ to maintain internal and communal perceptions of the family as cohesive, authoritarian, and dignified. Students discussed prioritizing the family as attempts to prevent negative external scrutiny towards the family. Seeking help for sexual assault from the police, doctors, or counselors could result in bringing internal and external shame to the family. Prizing virginity refers to the emphasis a family or community places on woman’s sexual purity. Seeking help for sexual violence (either within or outside the family) would reveal the loss of virginity. This loss could be perceived as a lack of solidarity or parental influence within the family. Staying out of trouble illustrates student attempts to not disappoint their parents. Students described their parents as perceiving rape victims as being victimized due to not respecting authority and not following sexual propriety.


Practice implications include helping students to develop mechanisms they could use to both meet individual and family needs. For example, campus violence prevention educators can show students how an individual seeking help for sexual assault benefits the wellbeing of the family unit. As well, helping students to deconstruct the relationship between sexual violence and sexual “purity” could alleviate the self-blame and family shame that can accompany the victimization. The results of this study could be used to design a survey project aimed at gathering attitudinal data from a larger sample of Latinx students. Both sets of data could be used to design a pilot education program that considers the cultural context of Latinx college students.