Methods: An online, cross-sectional survey of young women (ages 18-34; n = 483) who use social media and live in the U.S. was facilitated using CloudResearch’s MTurk toolkit. The survey assessed participants’ social media use (e.g., platforms and frequency of use), sexual violence histories (using the SES-SFV), as well as frequency and type of exposures to social media content unsupportive of sexual assault survivors. Unsupportive content was operationalized as social media posts or commentary which promoted either victim blaming (e.g., blaming victims for their assault or questioning their trustworthiness), or perpetrator support (e.g., showing support or concern for men who have been accused or sexual assault). Participants who endorsed exposure to unsupportive content were asked follow-up questions about who they saw post these messages (e.g., extended family, close friends, co-workers).
Results: Two-thirds of women in the sample (65%, n = 312) had experienced sexual assault. Rates of exposure to unsupportive content were high among all participants. Nearly 90% of the overall sample (n = 433) reporting seeing victim blaming content on social media, with a third of the sample (n = 153) stating they had seen this “many times.” Survivors reported seeing victim blaming content significantly more often than non-victims, t(481) = -2.33, p = .02. About 80% of the overall sample (n = 383) reported seeing content supporting accused perpetrators, with nearly a quarter (23%, n = 111) stating they had seen this “many times.” Chi-square analyses were conducted to compare how frequently survivors endorsed seeing unsupportive content posted by people in different relational groups compared to non-victims. Survivors reported seeing victim blaming content posted by extended family, close friends, casual friends and co-workers, and perpetrator supportive content posted by close friends, casual friends, and co-workers, at significantly higher rates than non-victims.
Conclusions and Implications: The present study indicates that exposure to content which is unsupportive of sexual assault survivors is common among young women on social media. These data also suggest that survivors may be more attuned to notice unsupportive content compared to non-victims, particularly when it is posted by people they know personally. Clinicians should assess for social media use and exposure to unsupportive content among survivors. Ensuring survivors have access to positive support systems may involve relational interventions to address harmful interactions on social media with family/friends, setting boundaries with social media use, and/or expanding supports beyond people who survivors have identified as unsafe through their online behaviors.