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Studying Significant Others Could Help Survivors Of Sexual Assault

One in five women report having experienced rape, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida State University doctoral candidate Wayne Rivera says that means many people know a sexual assault survivor, whether they realize it not.

"The way I'm defining it at least, which includes friends and partners. Most people tend to know a victim. Maybe they disclose to them or not. But most people will tend to know a victim or survivor," Rivera said.

Credit Allan Bergman via flickr /

Yet many survivors don't report their assault to law enforcement. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 310 out of every 1,000 rapes are reported to police. Rivera says friends, family and partners are often the first line of support, not social services.

“These friends are the primary people who are assisting the victim. Again, most rapes are not reported to any sort of agency… or something that can help. So it’s really important to understand how they react, and what impact that has on them,” Rivera said.

That’s spurring Rivera to study those significant others, who may not know how to respond.

“Supporting a victim is actually very difficult. A lot of times even when we feel like we’re doing something good, there’s still doubts….People often screw up. They feel bad about it. And there’s no one who really tells you how to handle something like that,” Rivera said.

Rivera hopes understanding significant others may ultimately help connect survivors to the services they need.

He’s currently collecting interviews with friends, family, partners and social support workers to study how survivors disclosed the assault. He'll then delve into how the significant others responded and what, if any, second hand impacts came out of the experience. 

He plans to publish his findings in the spring of 2018.

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