Although more than 1,000 sexual assault hotlines exist in North America, how they are used is not well-known. A new study finds that many callers use such services long after an assault — as many as three years later.
“For traumatic events in general, it is well known that telephone hotlines play an important role in providing immediate support for survivors,” said Marianna L. Colvin, Ph.D., author of a recent article published in the journal Violence Against Women.
“By examining the time frame of the assault in relation to the time of the hotline call, it’s evident that the hotline is primarily accessed as a ‘crisis service’,” said Colvin.
Nevertheless, the hotline also provided a support channel for victims in distress long after the original assault.
“Although more than half of the calls were made within 72 hours of the assault, we were very surprised to find that the next most frequent calls involved calls made three or more years after the assault took place. This demonstrates the necessity for hotline staff to be prepared to respond to both immediate and long-term effects of assault.”
Colvin and collaborators from the University of Georgia examined telephone calls received by a regional sexual assault hotline in the Southeastern U.S. over the course of five years.
Researchers used a case analysis design to study how victims and the public used the hotline service. They analyzed the calls by a variety of metrics including the frequency and types of callers, the time gap between an incident occurring and contacting the hotline, categories of assault, and what services and referrals were provided.
The data were then compared for congruence with the stated agency’s program goals and volunteer training curricula to assess whether content adequately prepared volunteers for the reality of hotline usage.
In addition, implications for hotline training and practice recommendations were provided based on the nature and content of the calls from this data set.
Results of the study show that 40.7 percent of the callers were victims themselves. Callers were female in more than 80 percent of both victim and non-victim categories. The majority of non-victim callers identified having a relationship to a primary victim (44 percent).
Of these callers, 49.1 percent were professionals (mostly medical and law enforcement staff), followed by family members (37.7 percent), and friends (13.2 percent). Victims were 86.5 percent female and 13.5 percent male.
Of calls identifying the victim’s age, 46.7 percent were minors, 30.8 percent were between 18 and 24, and 22.5 percent were 25 or older. Most calls reported were sexual assault with physical contact (42.9 percent).
The median duration of a call was five minutes, with an expansive range between less than one minute and 125 minutes. Calls were distributed as highly severe (45.3 percent), moderately severe (24.8 percent), and low in severity (29.9 percent).
According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2011), almost one in five women and one in 71 men have experienced rape at some time in their lives.
Researchers estimate that these reports underrepresent the actual number of sexual assaults occurring in the population due to barriers such as a victim’s sense of shame, social stigma, and reluctance to use services.
Young people are disproportionately affected by sexual violence. In a national survey of adults, 42.2 percent of female rape victims were first raped before the age of 18. More than 12 percent of female rape victims and 27.8 percent of male rape victims were first raped when they were aged 10 years or younger.
“Hotline workers must be trained and prepared to handle the immediate emotional impacts of sexual assault, as well as the long-term emotional impacts of sexual assault,” said Colvin.
“As many of those calling immediately were professionals or secondary victims assisting someone else, a thorough knowledge of community resources and linkages also is crucial.
“And because hotlines are anonymous, how we’re providing services to a population of people who may not be interfacing with another service is critical for supporting clients who have needs and may not be reaching out in other ways.”
Source: Florida Atlantic University