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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Following sexual assault, survivors may turn to the civil or criminal justice systems in pursuit of some form of legal justice. Yet, this has not been thoroughly examined in research, particularly through a dyadic lens. Using qualitative dyadic from 45 survivor-SP matched pairs i. Of the 45 pairs in the sample, the current study presents findings from a subsample of 28 survivors and 13 SPs regarding post-assault legal system experiences.

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Our findings suggest that survivors and SPs consider the perceived strength of their case, perceptions of police, and the possibility of institutional bias when deciding to report the assault to the police. Interviews revealed that reasons for legal system involvement extend beyond pursuance of perpetrator prosecution, such as filing for custody of their children after leaving a domestic violence situation or seeking financial compensation. Many survivors who had interactions with the police and legal system experienced secondary victimization, while a few survivors had positive experiences, despite their expectations.

We recommend improved access to survivor advocates and suggest directions for future research stemming from findings. Sexual assault survivors may turn to the criminal justice system, the civil justice system, or both following assault. Where the criminal justice system would typically involve reporting the assault to the police and participating in the justice process if charges are pursued, survivors may also pursue remedies within the civil legal system such as civil orders of protection, financial assistance, and child custody in events like spousal rape.

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However, this has yet to be studied, particularly using a qualitative dyadic approach. In addition to demographic differences in reporting, stereotypical assaults are more likely to be reported i. Survivors involved in the criminal justice system tend to perceive their experiences differently than victims of other violent crimes and property crimes Laxminarayan, Secondary victimization refers to insensitive, victim-blaming treatment, and negative victim experiences at various stages of the legal process that often result in greater feelings of trauma Campbell, Campbell reports that community-residing survivors often experience feelings of secondary victimization following interactions with police officers.

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In addition to potential secondary victimization by legal personnel, survivors who report to the police often fear of reprisal from the perpetrator Wolitzky-Taylor et al. Over half of survivors rate their experience with the system as harmful, unsatisfactory, unfair, and in some cases, more harmful than the assault itself Campbell et al.

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Approximately one-third of survivors regard their criminal justice system experience as healing Campbell, et al. Qualitative research by Patterson, Greeson, and Campbell found that survivors are reluctant to seek help from formal systems such as police because they believe they would be unable or unwilling to help, contribute to further psychological harm, and fail to protect them from perpetrators.

The more circumstantial justifications provided by police are, the more characterological and investigatory justifications increase and investigatory actions decrease Shaw et al.

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Many survivors say if they had known what the reporting experience would be like, they would not have pursued police involvement Logan et al. Survivors of sexual and interpersonal violence often interact with multiple types of personnel in the criminal and civil justice systems, including prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys. Personnel have a strong impact on how survivors feel during the process Campbell, and the types of help they receive Price, The same study found that survivors were attuned to social reactions of judges and, similar to research on police and detective responses, found that receiving supportive responses positively impacted their overall experience of the civil legal system.

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Some feminist scholars suggest the nexus of police officers, prosecutors, attorneys, and judges who serve in the criminal and civil legal systems not only fail to help survivors, but actively cause harm by ignoring abuse and failing to act in serious situations, such as denying orders of protection or enacting mandatory arrest policies Bumiller, The scope of the legal system is broad and should be widely assessed for its treatment of survivors. SPs can also mitigate some of the negative interactions survivors may have when they participate in the legal process.

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Survivors may have matters beyond criminal prosecution that require involvement with either the criminal justice system, the civil justice system, or both, like filing for child custody or pursuing orders of protection after leaving a domestic violence situation. The sample included adult female sexual assault survivors who disclosed their assault to an informal SP. Recruitment included weekly advertisements in local newspapers, on Craigslist, and through university mass .

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Women interested in participation called the research office and were screened for eligibility using the following criteria: a had an unwanted sexual experience at age of 14 or older, b were 18 or older at the time of participation, and c had ly told someone about their unwanted sexual experience. Eligible participants were sent the following materials: the survey, an informed consent form, a list of community resources for dealing with victimization, and a stamped return envelope for the completed survey.

The final question on the survey gave women the opportunity to participate again.

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Women who indicated interest in further surveys were contacted via phone and and sent the Wave 2 survey one year later. The same procedure was repeated for Wave 3.

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Survivors who completed all three survey waves were invited to participate in an interview regarding disclosure and social support received following the assault. Women were asked to provide the contact information for an informal SP who would also be willing to participate in an interview. The present study focuses on the qualitative from the matched-pair interview sample.

Interview participants were a subset of 45 survivors who had ly participated in the surveys and one SP selected by each interviewed survivor. Interviews were conducted between and The average age of survivors participating in interviews was Forty-five SPs participated in interviews. The average age of SPs was the same as survivors, 43 years old.

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Three SPs did not report their racial identity. Interview participants included adult women from the Chicago metropolitan area who participated in all three waves of a survey regarding experiences of completed or attempted rape, and one of their SPs.

We asked survivors interested in interview participation to provide the contact information for a member of the informal support network—a friend, family member, or ificant other—that the survivor disclosed to.

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One of three trained interviewers from the research team conducted semi-structured, in-person interviews. Interviewers provided all participants with a list of referral sources for mental health, advocacy, and substance abuse services, should they need formal support. Survivors and SPs were interviewed separately.

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Interviews ranged from 30 minutes to 3 hours average 1 hour. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and checked by other members of the research team.

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Survivors were asked to tell the story of their assault and post-assault experience, including any disclosures and support received post-assault. This code fell under the larger code family i.

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This was not limited to interactions with particular legal players e. During transcription, brief summaries and potential patterns were added.

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Following transcription, the interviewers conducted a final review of their transcripts then interviewers and other team members met to discuss emerging themes and patterns, which were then summarized to identify specific patterns and themes. The process to develop a codebook covering individual interviews and themes reflected in the match pair relationships involved multiple trials of coding and refinement in consultation with the interview guide and quantitative survey.

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The result was a codebook that included over descriptive codes that were used to summarize the primary topic of excerpts within each interview. Saldana, Coding and analysis took place in Atlas.

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This process took place in several stages. First, pairs of coders separately coded each interview matched pair using the codebook. Second, one coder in the pair then reviewed both coded transcripts to identify any inconsistencies in ased codes. Third, disagreements were discussed by coders until reaching a t consensed version by both parties i. In cases where agreement was not obtained, double coding i. Fourth, the coded transcript was reviewed by the original interviewer for agreement with ased codes.

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The coders discussed any disagreements and corrected coded transcripts, until reaching consensus. We created memos within the transcripts during the coding process to highlight relationships or inconsistences within and between the survivor and SP interviews, or to capture unanticipated themes in the data Charmaz, Analysis involved an iterative process that took place in several stages after coding was completed Interviews were analyzed at both the individual level and at the level of matched pairs i. First, we ran queries in Atlas.

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Third, the full research team reviewed the identified themes and patterns. We identified patterns within the legal experiences code, which are presented below. In 12 matched pairs, both the survivor and SP mention these systems.


Five survivors spoke about their decision not to report to police. One survivor and SP discussed how the survivor wanted to report, but—like many survivors—was afraid of reprisal from the perpetrator:. Again, told my mom and I got very careful about being out late at night. Rather than reporting to police, the survivor in the above quote decided to change her own behaviors to avoid assault in the future due to her fear of the perpetrator causing her further harm.

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Four survivors discussed not reporting to the police because they felt they were to blame for the assault, exemplified by two quotes from two different survivors:. I had ended up in the hospital and the police were involved. But in the other ones [sexual assaults], I never really reported them. You feel, especially if you were on drugs it was your fault.

These survivors did not report to police because of internalized blame about their actions before the incident due to the internalized rape myth that women who engage in risky behavior such as drug use or who go with someone who later assaults them are to blame for their assault. Survivors also know many police officers share this belief, and do not report to avoid being further blamed for their assault. Another survivor did not entertain the idea of reporting to the Craigslist Wasco CA sex due to her negative attitudes toward police:.

The police are no better. Police are no better. The opinion of this survivor was, in part, shaped by an experience she had several years prior to the interview where she tried to report a different sexual assault than the most recent experience that was the focus of the interview.

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As she explained, the police were unwilling to help, and the negative response she was met with was revictimizing and led her to ultimately attempt suicide. From her original negative police interaction, she was unwilling to report to police in the future and had an overall lack of trust. Just as many survivors know police have beliefs and attitudes grounded in rape myths, they also know many police engage in violence.

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