Abstract: Help-Seeking Among Survivors of on-Campus Interpersonal Violence: A Qualitative Exploration (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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723P Help-Seeking Among Survivors of on-Campus Interpersonal Violence: A Qualitative Exploration

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Julia Cusano, MSW, Phd Candidate and Graduate Assistant, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Jordan Steiner, MA, MSW, LSW, Doctoral Candidate, Rutgers University
Roxanna Ast, MSW, MSc, Graduate Research Assistant, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Leila Wood, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas Medical Branch, TX
Background: Students on campus experience interpersonal violence (IPV) at high rates, with estimates ranging from 14% to 31% of women and 10% men experiencing some form of IPV in college. Despite the widespread prevalence, formal disclosure of IPV and utilization of on-campus support services for survivors remain low. This is problematic because IPV is a cause of physical and mental health problems, and negative academic outcomes. While emerging research highlights the potential importance of trauma-informed services, not much is known about helping-seeking on college campuses, particularly what informs using services. This exploratory study helps to fill this gap by examining the drivers and barriers to violence specific service utilization on campus through the accounts of survivors, who both did and did not use victim services on campus.

Methods: We used purposive sampling to recruit 33 participants for interviews at one large public University in the Northeast. Participants included both students who utilized and those who did not utilize the victim services center on campus after experiencing IPV. The sample is predominantly female (91%) and diverse, with 55% of the students identifying as White, 12% as Black, 24% as Asian, and 21% as Hispanic/LatinX. To recruit participants, flyers, and electronic announcements were used. Interviews were conducted by two individuals with a master of social work. Interviews elicited participants’ overall disclosure experiences, decisions around disclosure, as well as perceptions and awareness of on-campus victim services. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded thematically using of grounded theory coding methods.

Results: Data analysis reveals a trajectory of help-seeking on campus that is iterative based on evolving information and social supports. Many participants, both help-seeking and non-help seeking, reported that they first disclosed to an informal source of support, most often a friend. However, differences emerged between help-seeking and non-help seeking participants in the type of disclosure response that was received, which ultimately impacted help-seeking trajectories. Data suggests that most of the help-seeking participants received a positive disclosure response, and often the receipt of warm referrals by informal sources helped survivors "see" themselves in on-campus victim services, such that their experiences were worthy of intervention and that on campus services could prove to be helpful. However, many non-help seeking survivors were met with insensitive reactions by informal sources which facilitated participants to not see themselves as worthy or eligible of receiving assistance from the victim service provider on campus. Such participants described the belief that using the services on campus would not make a difference in their healing process, and this was regardless of participants’ awareness of such services.

Implications: The results of this study have implications for on-campus services. It is important to develop programs that will help improve students’ ability to respond to disclosures of IPV, as well as increase their awareness of services to refer services to and educate peers. Additionally, findings highlight the need to improve access to broader psychoeducation information regarding services available to students and to be more intentional in victim services’ outreach efforts.