Study Evaluates How Sexual Assault Hotlines Are Used

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The Law Of... providing support for sexual abuse survivors

A study published by the Florida Atlantic University has tried to establish how sexual assault hotlines are used and has evaluated whether volunteers for such hotlines are given adequate training for the role.

The Law Of... providing support for sexual abuse survivors

Responding to the report, Peter Garsden – an expert on abuse law and Head of Abuse Claims at Simpson Millar – praises the work of sexual assault hotlines.

Not Restricted To Survivors

The study was undertaken due to a perceived increase in usage of sexual assault hotlines in the US since the 1970s.

It was claimed that despite knowing of their widespread use, there is little understanding of their effectiveness or how such hotlines deliver on their individual service missions.

By evaluating call data at a regional sexual assault hotline, the University hoped to compare call types, duration, and subject matters with staff training. The express goal of this comparison was to identify whether call handlers were properly prepared for the role.

One of the early findings of the study was that only 40% of callers were victims themselves, meaning that many callers were either professionals calling on the behalf of a survivor, or the friends and family members of a survivor.

It is for this reason that hotlines have been encouraged to educate call handlers on community resources and informative organisations, who may be able to provide support to those indirectly affected by abuse.

Young People Disproportionately Affected

In order to frame their analysis, the University evaluated national statistics to establish whether hotlines were providing training that reflected US abuse statistics.

According to a US national survey of adults, young people are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, for example, 42% of female rape victims were first abused before they reached the age of 18.

In the same vein, 27.8% of male rape victims were first abused when they were aged 10 or younger.

Data established by the University study highlighted that while more than half of calls to the hotline were made in the immediate aftermath – the first 72 hours – of assault, the next most frequent calls came 3 years or more after abuse took place.

In response to these findings, the University recommended that hotline workers must be prepared to deal with both recent and long-term survivors of abuse.

Immediate & Long-Term Effects Of Abuse

With abuse having immediate and long-term effect on survivors and their support network, it is important that hotline call handlers are giving thorough training, as Peter remarks:

"Hotline callers perform such an important job and they often have to hear heart-wrenching stories; as such, it is crucial that they are given adequate training to prepare them for their role."

"It is no wonder that the usage of sexual assault hotlines has increased significantly over the last few decades, as the benefits of these services cannot be overstated."

"Hotlines give survivors of abuse a voice and allow them to offload their experience without judgement to an anonymous professional, whose explicit role is to listen and understand the feelings of the caller."

"With abuse causing untold physical and psychological damage to survivors, those affected by abuse can often feel marginalised, which makes the work of abuse hotlines all the more important."


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