Date of Award

2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Singleton-Jackson, Jill (Psychology)

Keywords

Psychology.

Rights

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Abstract

Sexual assault is a common occurrence on Canadian university campuses, yet women who experience sexual assault typically do not seek immediate help. This pattern of silence is problematic because when survivors talk about the assault with someone whose responses are perceived as supportive, their suffering is often alleviated (Campbell, Ahrens, Sefl, Wasco, & Barnes, 2001). This study examined the efficacy of messages designed to encourage sexual assault survivors to seek help. Community members submitted 118 messages designed to encourage help seeking to a poster contest. These were combined with 34 messages gathered from existing sources. Three of these messages were judged to be exemplary by a panel of experts. Women (n = 633) recruited through the university of Windsor and online advertisements were randomly assigned to view one of these three help seeking messages, or to a control group. Reactions to these messages were measured at one week and one month intervals. Women who experienced rape or attempted rape (n = 138) had significantly less positive attitudes, subjective norms, and intention towards help seeking, endorsed less help seeking behaviour and encouraged a friend to seek less help than participants who did not experience sexual assault (n = 186). Exposure to a poster designed to increase help seeking behaviour did not improve beliefs about help seeking and did not increase actual help seeking behaviour. Exposure to one poster did encourage hypothetical help seeking regardless of level of distress. Encouragingly, exposure to another poster did increase actual help seeking among participants with high levels of self-blame. Some improvements in hypothetical advice to a friend were noted. Findings suggest that emphasizing a message of solidarity (e.g. you are not alone) may motivate some changes in help seeking behaviour. More effective content for future posters is discussed.

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