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KVINNEHELSE-Kvinners helse og kjønnsperspektiver

Responding to Mental Health Problems in Victims of Sexual Assault

Alternative title: Responding to Mental Health Problems in Victims of Sexual Assault

Awarded: NOK 11.0 mill.

Sexual assault against women is a major public health challenge. We know that sexual assault is highly prevalent and will cause serious health problems and suffering in many victims. However, we lack knowledge about mental health in assault victims. RESPOND will generate insight into which factors, and which health services, that can promote health and wellbeing in victims that have sought help at a Sexual assault care center (SACC). The primary objective of RESPOND is to improve health services and health in recent victims of sexual assault. RESPOND aims to answer three research questions: 1) What are the most important conditions for mental health problems and symptom relief within the first year following a sexual assault? 2) How does the social environment influence symptom-producing thought processes? 3) How do victims value their patient experiences at the SACCs, and how do these experiences relate to the later mental health developments? Researchers in RESPOND collaborate with SACCs in all parts of Norway. SACC patients will be informed about the study, and those who consent to participation will be contacted at four time points: 2-3 weeks after the assault, after 3 months, after 6 months and after one year. In RESPOND, the researchers work with people with lived experiences and with people who engage in helping victims of sexual assault, such as the Support centers for survivors (the NOK centers and DIXI). In addition to theory development, RESPOND aims to establish research-based knowledge that can support the development of national guidelines for psychosocial services at the SACCs, as well as communicating new knowledge to the general public and to victims and their family and friends. We also intend to organise a national, multidisciplinary conference to facilitate dialogue across services and institutions, with representatives from decision-makers, the health sector, the police, the justice sector, support centers, and survivors of sexual assault.

Sexual assault is highly prevalent among women in our society and constitutes a major challenge to public health. The primary aim of this study is to improve mental health and wellbeing in victims of sexual assault. We have three research objectives: (I) To understand mental health development in sexual assault care center patients over the first-year post-assault and identify vulnerability factors for mental health problems. (II) To acquire knowledge of how the social environment influences individual thought processes in a way that can promote a resilient or a negative mental health development. (III) To understand how sexual assault care center practices influence patients’ experiences with psycho-social care and potentially impact mental health. These objectives correspond to the following knowledge gaps: (1) The influential resilience model for human adaptation to extreme stress seems to fit sexual assault victims poorly. There is a lack of knowledge about risk factor for mental health problems in this patient group. (2) The role of responses from social network for maladaptive thinking and mental health problems is unknown. (3) Little is known about how the psychosocial services at the sexual assault care centers affect patients’ experiences and their mental health. RESPOND builds on a national multicenter observational cohort study that recruits patients from sexual assault care centers. The design is longitudinal with repeated measurements at four waves. RESPOND will have close communication with each participating sexual assault care center and with our user panel to adapt to potential challenges and discuss interpretations and implications of results. Our research group with cooperating partners represent unique expertise regarding sexual assault, mental health, social interaction, cognition, and psychosocial interventions.

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KVINNEHELSE-Kvinners helse og kjønnsperspektiver

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