Abstract: An Intersectional Analysis of Perceptions of Peers' Responses to Survivors of Sexual Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

An Intersectional Analysis of Perceptions of Peers' Responses to Survivors of Sexual Violence

Friday, January 14, 2022
Liberty Ballroom K, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Julia O'Connor, PhD, MSW, MPH, Assistant Professor; Violence Against Women Cluster Member, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL
Jill Hoxmeier, PhD, Associate Professor, Central Washington University, WA
Julia Cusano, MSW, Phd Candidate and Research Specialist, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Sarah McMahon, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Purpose: Increasingly, there is recognition of the role of peers in addressing campus sexual violence through bystander intervention, peer education, etc. – and often social workers design and implement these programs. However, many of the studies on these interventions have been conducted on primarily white samples and it is important to determine if students marginalized by identities such as race, disability, etc. have similar perceptions of the supportive role of peers. As such, this study investigates how students perceive their peers’ support of survivors of sexual violence and if minoritized students’ perceptions of their peers differs from other students.

Methods: This study analyzed campus climate data collected in 2018 at one large, Mid-Atlantic public university. The final sample was majority ciswomen (68%) and was racially/ethnically diverse (33% Asian/Asian American, 13% Latinx/Hispanic, 7% Black, and 5% another race/ethnicity). Nearly one in five students (17%) identified as non-heterosexual, 17% had experienced sexual violence, and 6% had a disability.

A series of linear regression analyses were conducted in Stata 16 to examine the association between demographic characteristics and perception of peers’ responses to survivors of sexual violence: 1) The first model estimated the association between the demographic factors and perception of peers’ responses in the full sample for this study. 2) A series of models estimated the same association but among subsets of the sample (e.g., cismen, ciswomen, White students, nonwhite students, heterosexual individuals, non-heterosexual students, etc.).

Results: Perception of peer response was predicted by demographics including gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and sexual violence victimization such that women, non-straight students, some groups of racial/ethnic minority students, and survivors of sexual violence all had worse perceptions of their peers’ response to survivors of sexual violence compared to their counterparts. Overall, minoritized students generally had worse perceptions of how their peers would respond to survivors of sexual violence. In the full model, all demographic factors except for disability status, were significant predictors of worse perception of how peers would respond to survivors of sexual violence; however, in subsequent models, the results indicated that the intersections of identities are key predictors of perception of peers’ support. For example, in the full model, Black students did not perceive their peers worse than their White peers. However, for cismen, Black identity was a significant predictor of perceptions of peers’ responses to survivors of sexual violence, suggesting that for cismen, Black identity is particularly important.

Conclusions: The findings indicate that minoritized students perceived their peers as less supportive than other students. Peer support contributes to the broader social environment and minoritized students generally have a worse perception of campuses responses to sexual violence. Therefore, campus administrators and social workers who design programs to address sexual violence and support survivors should consider their efforts in the broader context of improving university climate for students with minoritized identities. Such strategies might address implicit (or explicit) bias within a larger framework of applying an intersectional lens to understanding students’ experiences while developing more effective initiatives to address sexual violence.