No longer silent: A study of women's help-seeking decisions and service responses to sexual assault


In 2004 the Australian Government Office for Women commissioned the Australian Institute of Criminology to conduct a qualitative study of victim/survivor decision-making and coordinated responses to adult sexual assault. The research addresses gaps in knowledge about the social and personal contingencies that influence victim/survivors' help-seeking behaviour and their decisions in respect of the criminal justice system and on the efficacy of coordinated service responses to sexual assault.

The study was based on interviews with 36 female victim/survivors of adult sexual assault and 65 sexual assault counsellors. The study also collected qualitative information on sexual assault workers' perceptions of the efficacy of coordinated service provision and their recommendations for improving service delivery.

The study finds, overall, that women's decisions about where to seek help and the responses of the recipients of their disclosures are patterned by a spectrum of social and personal factors that, for the most part, perpetuate the silencing of survivors. While the response of the criminal justice system has improved, all too often it continues to be implicated in secondary victimisation and in maintaining the secrecy around sexual assault. Many research participants were disillusioned with the criminal justice system, but their participation in the study was motivated by the belief that system change is possible. Recommendations put forward in the report largely focus on improving social responses to sexual assault and promoting organisational change.

A report prepared by the Australian Institute of Criminology for the Australian Government's Office for Women.