Research Note: Parallel Reactions in Rape Victims and Rape Researchers
Alexander, Janet G., Chesnay, Mary de, Marshall, Elaine, Campbell, Arthur Ree, Johnson, Sharon, Wright, Rebecca, Violence and Victims
In a recent study, several nurse researchers assisted in a case record review on 1,215 rape crisis center records to determine demographic predicators of sexual abuse. Despite the relatively impersonal nature of the method used in collection of data, researchers experienced highly subjective responses to the often sketchy case records both during and after the study. Some of the reactions reported by data collectors included: anger, dreams, fear of physical injury, and sleep disorders. These responses closely parallel those reported in the literature on rape victims. This research note (1) describes the reactions of the five different data collectors, (2) compares these reactions to those reported for rape victims, (3) suggests some implications for those engaged in research on potentially distressing topics, and (4) offers suggestions on how to best prepare data collectors and others for research in emotionally charged areas.
Rape can be viewed as an invasion of the body by force, a violation of emotional, physical, and rational integrity, and/or a degrading and hostile act of violence intended to humiliate the victim (Brownmiller, 1975). The victims of rape are women, children, and men of all ages, races, marital status, and occupations (Moore, 1984). Many studies have dealt with the aftereffects of rape on the victim. Documentation from numerous fields of study indicates that most rape victims experience psychological, psychiatric, and behavioral reactions following a rape (e.g., Burgess, 1974; Katz & Mazur, 1979; McCahill, Meyer, & Fischman, 1981).
REACTIONS OF RAPE VICTIMS
Burgess and Holmstrom (1974) describe a rape trauma syndrome, which includes physical, emotional, and behavioral stress reactions that result from the person being forced into a life-threatening situation.
Short-term, the victim may exhibit generalized fear, restlessness, crying spells, and anger (Burgess & Holmstrom, 1973). Gelinas (1983) reports that victims often feel anxious, and powerless. Some victims subsequently exhibit fear of strangers, of unlighted areas, of being alone, and a feeling of being helpless or vulnerable (Ellis, Calhoun, & Atkeson, 1980). Several studies also note that victims report sleeping and eating disorders, fear of physical injury, fear of being at home, somatic problems, insomnia, and nightmares (Burgess & Holmstrom, 1974; Katz & Mazur, 1979). Long-term reactions include increased cautiousness, seeking out social support from family and friends, making self-devaluing judgments, and changing normal routines of living by moving, changing telephone numbers, or changing place of employment (Burgess & Holmstrom, 1974).
REACTIONS OF RAPE RESEARCHERS
In a recent study, several nurse researchers assisted in a case record review to determine demographic predictors of sexual abuse. Despite the relatively impersonal nature of the method used in data collection, researchers experienced highly subjective responses to the often sketchy case records of women who contacted a rape crisis center after sexual assault (de Chesnay, Marshall, Johnson, Lapierre, & Turner, 1985). Data was collected by five different female nursing faculty members over a 3-month period. Each researcher reviewed and coded as many as she could in a 4-hour time frame weekly for the 3-month period. Three of the researchers collected data alone. The other two collected data at the same time. All the researchers were seasoned faculty and experienced with the problem of rape in a clinical context, but only the principal investigator (de Chesnay) had conducted research on sexual abuse. Each researcher had at least 10 years of experience in nursing.
Although the investigators had no direct contact with the victims or assailants, they described feelings generated by exposure to the recorded suffering of victims who were raped. During the data analysis period, the investigators met for the purpose of discussing their feelings and reactions to participating in the study. …