To Tell or Not to Tell: The Impact of Disclosure on Sexual Assault Survivors' Recovery


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Abstract

There is a growing body of research examining the disclosure of sexual assault. But the focus on time to first disclosure does not capture the whole picture. Survivors also differ in how long they continue to disclose, to whom they disclose, and the types of reactions received during disclosure. To provide a more comprehensive view of disclosure, this study sought to identify patterns of disclosure among a sample of 103 female sexual assault survivors recruited from the community. This study also sought to identify characteristics of each disclosure pattern, differences in how each disclosure pattern tends to unfold (e.g., who is told and how they react), and differences in how these disclosure patterns are related to physical and mental health outcomes. Results revealed four distinct disclosure patterns: nondisclosers, slow starters, crisis disclosers, and ongoing disclosers. Assault characteristics and rape acknowledgment distinguished nondisclosers and slow starters from the other two disclosure groups. Slow starters were also less likely to disclose to police and medical personnel and received negative reactions less frequently while nondisclosers experienced more symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress than other groups. Implications of these findings for future research and practice are discussed.

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