Graduation Year

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Criminology

Major Professor

Amy M. Cohn, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Kathleen M. Heide, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Wilson R. Palacios, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ráchael A. Powers, Ph.D.

Keywords

alcohol, barriers, college women, qualitative, reporting, service utilization

Abstract

Women disproportionately account for a majority of all completed and attempted rape victimizations each year in the U.S. relative to men. Female college students, in particular, have been noted as a group with the highest risk for rape. Rape among women not only has a substantial public health impact, but has been linked to a number of individual mental health and substance use problems. Despite the fact that service utilization (formal help-seeking with a counselor, mental health professional, rape crisis center, and police reporting) has been shown to deter negative sequelae of rape, few victims of rape receive assistance from a victim service agency or report the incident to police; and among college student victims, this rate is even lower. Instead, rape victims are more likely to disclose the event and seek help from an informal source, such as a family member, spouse/romantic partner, friend, or acquaintance. Traditionally seen to have a positive impact on victim's mental health, informal social support may play a different role in rape victims with high levels of alcohol involvement or among those who have experienced an alcohol-involved rape.

Current measures of social support fail to examine the factors that prompt victims to utilize their social support system and the role that alcohol use may play in victim's disclosure and recovery process. The current study explored the idea that social support may act as a barrier to help-seeking behavior, particularly formal treatment, among victims with alcohol involvement. This study had three primary aims: (a) to identify constructs related to the decision-making process to disclose a rape to an informal social support, (b) to understand victim and victim supporters' perceptions of social support and the impact of these perceptions on rape victims' post-rape mental health, and (c) to determine the role that alcohol plays in the disclosure process. To achieve these aims, the study used a mixed method approach (utilizing data from in-depth, semi-structured (face-to-face) qualitative interviews correlated with quantitative survey data) with a sample of college students (N=46) who were categorized into two groups: female college students who had experienced a rape in their lifetime (Victims; N=16) and college students who had had a rape disclosed to them (Supporters; N=30). The use of thick description provided Victims and Supporters a voice that could not be heard through existing quantitative measures. Qualitative data unveiled the fact that the perceptions surrounding social support during disclosure of a rape are often very different between Supporters and Victims. Victims themselves more often report feeling uncomfortable or guilty because of their own acceptance of rape myths, which appears to hinder them from further help-seeking. However, Victims appear to be prompted to disclose to an informal social support when they feel they are ready to talk and are provided a comfortable environment, but both Victims and Supporters feel that Supporters are unprepared to provide sufficient aid and the support provided during the disclosure may be inadequate. Despite the feelings that professional help would be beneficial, Victims are often stalled by complicating factors during the assault or their individual characteristics, such as alcohol involvement. Recent efforts on educating the general public on rape myths were evident during the interviews, but these beliefs still remain in students' feelings surrounding rape and utilizing mental health services.

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