Where do I Turn? A Qualitative Investigation of College Students' Helpseeking Decisions After Sexual Assault Victimization

Heidi DeLoveh

Major Professor: Lauren B Cattaneo, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Sarah Fischer, Patricia Masters

David King Hall, #1004G
April 23, 2014, 12:00 PM to 09:00 AM

Abstract:

 

Sexual Assault (SA) is a widespread problem in the United States (U. S.) and research suggests that college women are at even higher risk for this type of victimization than women in the general population (e.g. Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006). Resources designed to address these negative consequences exist both on and off college campuses, but there is evidence that they are underutilized by survivors in general and by college student survivors in particular. The current study used grounded theory to explore how SA survivors make decisions about helpseeking. In-depth interviews were conducted with 14 college survivors of SA to develop a theoretical model for the decision-making process. The resulting model, “Deciding Where to Turn,” suggests that survivors engage in three key decision points: determining if there is a problem related to the SA (“Do I Need Help”), considering options (“What Can I Do”), and weighing the consequences of these options (“What Will I Do”). This process results in one of four behavioral choices: cope on one’s own without support from others, seek support from friends/family, seek support from formal resources, or covert helpseeking, where needs are met without disclosure. “Deciding Where to Turn” contributes to the literature by providing a broader framework for understanding helpseeking decisions after SA, and covert helpseeking in particular adds to the way researchers and practitioners think about helpseeking. The implications of the results for research and practice are discussed.