Regret when keeping sexual assault a secret

April 12, 2012 By Angela Herring, Northeastern University
Carol Marchetti, assistant professor in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, studies victims of sexual assault. Credit: Dominick Reuter

(Medical Xpress) -- According to the 2006 National Violence Against Women Survey, one in six women is a victim of sexual assault, a crime that Carol Anne Marchetti said is committed repeatedly by a relatively few number of perpetrators.

“If we could take even a small number of offenders off the streets, we could greatly reduce the rate of [the crime],” said Marchetti, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences.

Victim reports are crucial to identifying offenders, she said. But the 2006 survey also found that only 10 to 20 percent of victims report their experiences to the police, a figure that Marchetti and other researchers have called a gross overestimate.

Marchetti, a certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), has spent thousands of hours examining and educating victims and gathering potential DNA evidence. Over time, she began to notice that many of her patients regretted their reporting decisions.

“When patients struggle with the decision of whether or not to report, many of them  say, ‘Carol, am I going to it?’” Marchetti said.

Victims who report attacks receive a variety of services to help them deal with psychiatric complications and other health consequences, but reporting , Marchetti cautioned, “is not in the best interest of every victim. For some it might result in their death or their children being taken.”

SANEs, who must remain objective, are not allowed to influence reporting decisions. For her part, Marchetti wants to identify factors that could help victims make appropriate choices that align with their situations.

In her recent article published in the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Marchetti found several correlations between regret and reporting decisions. Participants who experienced weight gain after an assault, for example, tended to regret their decisions. Those who sought professional treatment experienced less regret. Perhaps most strikingly, 70 percent of participants who did not report their attack regretted their decision.

Marchetti was not surprised by the finding, noting, “We often regret the road not taken rather than the road taken.”

Marchetti’s survey is available online. As more data becomes available, she will repeat the study with a larger population sample. Ultimately, she would like to develop a decision aid based on her results that could assist victims in the decision-making process.

Such an aid, Marchetti said, would be “consistent and not loaded one way or another but would address all the questions SANE nurses encounter.”

Explore further: Sexually victimized girls with PTSD not more likely to binge drink later

Related Stories

Sexually victimized girls with PTSD not more likely to binge drink later

July 27, 2011
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common outcome of sexual assault among many teenage girls, but they do not necessarily cope by binge drinking, a new study finds. When they occur in these girls, PTSD symptoms, such ...

BUSM professor outlines best practices for treating victims of sexual assault

August 31, 2011
Judith A. Linden, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and vice chair for education in the department of emergency medicine at Boston Medical Center (BMC), has written ...

Recommended for you

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.