Newswise — The University of Illinois at Chicago has received a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate sexual assault victims' recovery.
The five-year study will examine how support received by female victims of sexual assault aids their coping and post-assault adjustment -- particularly as it relates to post-traumatic stress disorder, problem drinking and positive adaptation.
"Sexual assault is a serious public health issue that affects approximately 25 percent of American women," says Sarah Ullman, UIC professor of criminology, law, and justice and the study's principal investigator.
"Earlier studies have shown that post-traumatic stress disorder and problem drinking are common after-effects experienced by women victims of sexual assault, yet the role of the social support in understanding these outcomes is still unclear."
Ullman and her colleagues will recruit more than 1,800 women who as adults experienced either attempted or completed rape and who disclosed their incident to at least one informal source. Participants will respond to a series of mail surveys conducted over several years.
To gain greater insight into the relations between social support and post-assault adjustment, the researchers will also examine the influence of support on survivors' risk for experiencing another sexual assault.
A segment of the study will test whether post-assault adjustment varies depending on whether the assault was alcohol-related and whether the victim disclosed the involvement of alcohol.
Finally, researchers will interview victims to learn more about their experiences disclosing the assault to their social networks. An informal social-network member selected by each victim will be interviewed about their experience of hearing about the assault and supporting the victim.
"We anticipate this will yield better understanding of how social support influences post-assault adjustment and whether there are differences depending on whether the victim is a problem drinker or experienced an alcohol-related assault," said Ullman, author of a new book "Talking About Sexual Assault: Society's Response to Survivors."
"It is important to look at different assault dynamics and both sides of the disclosure process in order to effectively address victims' needs."
Ullman said the results of the study could be used to develop specialized interventions to improve recovery; to tailor programs for alcohol-related and non-alcohol related assaults; and to design prevention programs aimed at reducing the recurrence of assault.
Co-investigators include Stephanie Riger, UIC professor of psychology and gender and women's studies, and Richard Campbell, UIC professor of biostatistics.
UIC ranks among the nation's leading research universities and is Chicago's largest university with 26,000 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state's major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.
For more information about UIC, please visit www.uic.edu.