Matching right defensive response to kind of attack a key
New information from research developed as part of a University of Cincinnati student's doctoral work may help crime victims make better decisions when facing attacks.
Shannon Santana will receive her PhD this week as part of UC's Spring Commencement 2005. Working under the guidance of UC's criminal justice department – ranked this spring as the No. 3 department of its kind in the nation by U.S. News – Santana's dissertation carries real-world ramifications: Her research reveals that the right response for people being victimized depends greatly on several specific circumstances surrounding the incident.
For instance, while traditional advice usually advocates that victims not resist, Santana's research found that physical resistance was effective in ending or at least reducing the severity of three of the four types of crimes she studied -- rapes, robberies and physical assaults. (Physical resistance had a neutral effect on the lone exception, sexual assaults.)
Conversely, a non-forceful verbal approach did little to nothing to improve the outcome for victims of these types of assaults.
"Some of this has been looked at previously in terms of rapes and sexual assaults," said Santana, who is now an assistant professor at Florida International University. "But there really was not much out there detailing how certain self-protective strategies impacted outcomes in robberies and physical assaults."
A primary question she wanted to answer was: If a victim uses some type of self-protective behavior, will their chance of experiencing a completed victimization be reduced?
Santana examined outcomes from the categories of crimes she looked at based on four different responses: forceful physical, forceful verbal, non-forceful physical and non-forceful verbal.
Besides her findings on the effectiveness of physical resistance, other highlights from her work include:
Rape was less likely to be completed when a victim chose to resist via a non-forceful physical self-protective behavior. Robbery was less likely to be completed when a victim chose to resist via a forceful physical self-protective behavior. With sexual assaults, two types of self-protective behaviors actually increased the chances of a more severe attack – forceful verbal and non-forceful physical. The effectiveness of the resistance is also impacted by the nature of the relationship between the victim and the offender. In physical assaults, a significant decrease was seen in the severity of the assault when a forceful physical approach was taken with a stranger; but if the attacker was someone who the victim knew well, a forceful physical response produced only a small decrease in likelihood of a severe attack.
"One of the hardest parts of this work is explaining the findings in a clear and simple way," says Santana. "It is not always clear what you should do in a given situation."
But development of this kind of information does open the door to greater education efforts among groups of likely victims, such as women in a deteriorating relationship.
Another logical group that could benefit from this information, Santana suggests, are college students, since being a young adult is a significant risk factor for becoming the victim of a crime.
Santana expects to produce additional research publications out of the analysis in this study. Her entire dissertation can be read online at: http://www.uc.edu/criminaljustice/graduate/Dissertations/Santana.pdf
Source: Eurekalert & othersLast reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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