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Kristen Sullivan, Devon McGowan '12 present on domestic & sexual violence

Elon University senior Devon McGowan and Assistant Professor Kristen Sullivan are making two presentations this month at the Ending Domestic & Sexual Violence: Innovations in Practice & Research Conference in Portsmouth, N.H.

McGowan is an Elon College Fellow and public health studies major. Sullivan is a faculty member in the Department of Human Service Studies.

Titles and abstracts of the presentations:

“They report it, don’t they?”: Female Undergraduate Student’s Perceptions of Sources of Help for Victims of Dating Violence and Barriers to Utilization.
Kristen Sullivan, PhD, MSW, MA & Devon McGowan

Background: Though the effects of dating violence are substantial, the majority of victims do not seek help. College students often have access to sources of help for violence victimization that are not available to the general population. Research about help seeking for dating violence among this population has left many basic questions unanswered. Objectives: This study explored the perceptions of female, undergraduate college students, a population at risk for dating violence victimization, about the prevalence of dating violence on campus, available sources of help for victims and perceived barriers to accessing these sources. Methods: In this study, dating violence is defined as physical, sexual, or emotional violence or threats perpetrated in a dating context. Six focus groups with undergraduate, female students from a small, private, southeastern university were conducted. Focus groups were transcribed and coded for emergent themes. Findings: Participants believed that physical dating violence was relatively rare, though sexual and emotional violence were thought to be more common. Students identified numerous formal sources of help including campus counseling services, the campus violence prevention coordinator, campus security, the Office of Judicial Affairs, the campus health center, faculty, town police, and the local sexual assault agency. A common barrier cited was the perception that sources not affiliated with the legal system (e.g., counseling services, health center, etc) would report the victimization. Other barriers included negative social consequences for the victim, lack of awareness of sources of help, stigma, and minimization. Conclusions: Participants were aware of multiple sources of help, but believed barriers to access were high. Findings indicate that concerns that campus-related sources of help are required to report disclosures of victimization present a significant perceived barrier to help seeking.

Perspectives of Undergraduate Females on Coerced-Consensual Sexual Experiences
Devon McGowan & Kristen Sullivan, PhD, MSW, MA

Background: Partnered sexual interaction is traditionally defined as being either consensual or nonconsensual in nature. However, research has found that participation in unwanted, yet consensual sex is a common occurrence. Coercive tactics are often employed to gain consent, particularly within a college setting. Women who give consent as a result of coercion have been found to be at risk for experiencing symptoms of trauma. Little is known, however, about college women’s perceptions of the use of coercive tactics to gain consent and appropriate help-seeking responses. Objective: This study explored undergraduate women’s perspectives on the prevalence of the utilization of sexually coercive tactics by undergraduate men to gain consent, if they label women who have been coerced into giving consent to sex as victims, and what forms of help, if any, they believe are appropriate and accessed. Methods: Six focus groups with undergraduate, female students from a small, southeastern university were conducted. A vignette illustrating a sexually coercive scenario where the female ultimately gives consent was presented, and a semi-structured discussion guide was utilized. Focus groups were transcribed and coded for emergent themes. Findings: Respondents widely consider sexual coercion to be the norm, citing alcohol as a contributing factor. Responses to the vignette varied; some participants identified the female as a victim, while others stated that she was not a victim because she “should have known,” had not consumed enough alcohol to be considered a victim, and should have verbalized no better. Participants excused the male for his behavior on several occasions, saying things such as “I think boys are just always going to try,” and asking “a lot of guys do things like that and so then, would we consider all guys rapists?” Most participants believed their friends would discuss a similar experience with them, but few would recommend a friend seek professional help. Conclusions: Coercive-consensual sex is common among this population, fueled by alcohol use, with blaming of the victim of coercion common. Research is need to further explore the aftereffects of sexually coercive experiences among this population and effective prevention and response interventions.

Eric Townsend,
5/1/2012 12:31 PM