U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Sexual Assault and Current Mental Health: The Role of Help-Seeking and Police Response

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 15 Issue: 11 Dated: November 2009 Pages: 1331-1357
Date Published
November 2009
27 pages

This study examined the extent to which seeking help from social service agencies or others, and reporting to police might impact mental health outcomes among sexual assault victims.


This study examined whether the mental health consequences of sexual violence for victims were dependent on community and informal support, and whether the association between race and mental health among sexual assault victims varied across help-seeking decisions. Findings show that although sexual assault appears to be particularly detrimental to women's physical, emotional, and mental health, sexual assault victims are less likely to call the police, preferring to seek help from family and friends. Some research suggests that help from family and friends, and actions taken by police may exacerbate the consequences of violence for some victims. Additional findings suggest that sexually assaulted African-American women have a lower risk of episodic drinking than White women who have experienced sexual violence, with none of the help-seeking and social support variables effectively reducing this risk. Similarly, family and friend help-seeking heighten depressive symptomatology. Data from the Violence and Threats of Violence against Women and Men in the United States Survey, 1994-1996, were analyzed for this study. Tables and references

Date Published: November 1, 2009