A Content Analysis of an Online Support Group for Survivors of Sexual Violence

A Content Analysis of an Online Support Group for Survivors of Sexual Violence

Jennifer Yeager (University of East London, UK & Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-866-8.ch006
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Surviving sexual violence has been described as one of the most traumatic life experiences, and social support is an extremely important coping strategy for survivors. With the rapidly increasing number of available online support communities, understanding exactly what kinds of support survivors need in the context on online social support groups is essential. This chapter presents a study of the types and extent of social support posts exchanged by members of an online social support group for survivors of sexual violence. The Social Support Behavior Code framework was used to code 755 messages that were posted over a 7-day period. Overall, emotional support (42.6%) was the most common support contained in posts, followed by information (21.2%), esteem (20.9%), network (13.1%), and tangible support (2.2%).
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Sexual Violence and Social Support

Social relationships are important and they can be affected by sexual violence; there is a volume of literature demonstrating that stressful life events generate acute and long-term physical and emotional disorders. The literature on stress and coping also suggests that social support acts as a survival mechanism for individuals under stress and that people’s coping methods are strongly associated with all types of social support (Ullman, 1999).

However, few studies have focused specifically on how social support is related to recovery from sexual violence. This is particularly surprising considering that social support has been shown to be a clearly important way of coping with stressful life events in providing emotional support and information that may enhance adjustment. This is further substantiated Herman’s (1997) assertion that few human conditions carry more negative weight than surviving rape and that rape survivors are more likely than non-survivors to show subsequent affective and behavioral problems (Rodgers & Gruener, 1997).

While Sanders-Phillips (1997) found that emotional support promoted good adjustment, Popiel & Susskind (1985) established that there were significant differences between the availability of support from different people in their investigation of the role of social support in survivors’ subsequent adjustment to sexual assault. In fact, the amount of perceived support varied with how stressful the assault and the amount of overall support did not predict subsequent adjustment. In other words, there were huge individual differences in coping with stress despite a significant relationship between environmental stressors and individual physical and emotional adjustment.

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