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Dr. Conley looks at effects of social support on sexual assault

Spotlight on SOE faculty research

Abigail Conley, Ph.D. [View Image] [View Image]Dr. Abigail Conley

The amount of knowledge being generated by VCU School of Education faculty in published research goes beyond merely enhancing the school’s reputation – it is helping to shape the future of education itself. One recent example of this is the study below, co-authored by Dr. Abigail Conley, associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education, which looks at the mediating effects of social support on the association between precollege sexual assault and college-onset sexual assault.

Summary

Dr. Abigail Conley, along with her co-authors from VCU Health, examined the mediating effects of social support on the association between pre-college sexual assault and revictimization in college. The study is built on a previous study (Conley, Overstreet, Hawn, Kendler, Dick & Amstadter, 2017) that found prior sexual assault to be a strong predictor for future sexual assault among a college population. In this study, perceived social support significantly mediated the relationship between sexual assault prior to college and the subsequent victimization in college. Sexual assault can result in survivors feeling isolated or neglected socially, and increases their likelihood of engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as substance abuse, risk-taking, tension-reducing sexual behaviors, loneliness and displaced blame. In addition, survivors who experienced sexual assault before college may be less likely to seek out and establish social support systems upon entering college.

The results of this study support the necessity of interventions for people who have experienced past sexual violence, including the adoption of trauma-informed approaches to curricula, campus initiatives and social support. For example, prosocial bystander behaviors in which an individual notices that a friend or acquaintance is having an issue requiring help and guiding them toward receiving help is a form of social support that can be particularly helpful to survivors of sexual assault. Implementation of these social support avenues can then reduce rates of revictimization for sexual assault survivors.

Citation:

Hawn, S.E., Lind, M.E., Conley, A.H., Overstreet, C.M., Kendler, K.S., Dick, D.M. & Amstadter, A.B. (2018). Effects of social support on the association between precollege sexual assault and college-onset victimization. Journal of American College Health, 66(6), 467-475. DOI: 10.1080/07448481.2018.1431911

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