Michigan State University Study Examines Why Young Women Do Not Report Sexual Violence

A new study led by Angie Kennedy, an associate professor of social work at Michigan State University, is one of the first to examine multiple factors that influence young women’s disclosure of partner violence that occurred during their first relationships, when they were just under 15 years old, on average.

The researchers interviewed a diverse group of young women between the ages of 18 and 24, all of whom had endured some form of partner violence with their first boyfriends. Overall, 91 percent experienced physical partner violence, 58 percent of which was severe; 91 percent experienced coercive control, which involves a partner having control over a survivor’s life; and 50 percent experienced sexual partner violence, defined as rape or attempted rape.

The researcher found that many of the women who were raped by their boyfriends had experienced a lot of abuse growing up, which led them to minimize the sexual violence. Additionally, some participants who had been raped noted they had been socialized to believe that forced sex was part of their role as a girlfriend. These factors resulted in limited or no disclosure.

In addition, more than 80 percent of the women reported feeling stigmatization such as shame or self-blame related to the partner violence, which was a barrier to them disclosing. Only a few participants sought help from law enforcement.

“I was surprised by the severity of the partner violence many experienced, oftentimes at a young age. The partner rape was especially alarming,” Dr. Kennedy said. “Some of these relationships can go on for years, and while the abuse stays secret, the suffering young women experience is immense.”

Dr. Kennedy, who joined the faculty at Michigan State in 2004, is a graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa. She earned a master of social work degree at the University of Iowa and a Ph.D. in social policy and gender studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The full study, “A Qualitative Study of Young Women’s Abusive First Relationships: What Factors Shape Their Process of Disclosure?” was published on the website of the Journal of Family Violence. Co-authors of the study are Elizabeth Meier, a doctoral candidate in the School of Social Work at Michigan State University, and Kristen A. Prock, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The study may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySexual Assault/Harassment


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