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. At this time it became clear that some of the feelings identified as indicative of rape trauma syndrome were being reported by members of the research team.
This research note offers five synopses that present the reactions of the data collectors, compare these reactions to reported rape victim reactions, and suggest implications for those conducting research in potentially emotionally charged areas. The synopses were written approximately 2 months after the debriefing meeting and were consistent with initial responses.
It's just a matter of filling in the data in the correct space. I read through the first case. A young woman is raped by two men who followed her outside a nightclub. I go quickly to the next cases, reading through as many cases as possible. An 80-year-old raped in her home-her family does not want anyone to know. A 2-year-old is brought into a hospital, molested by a relative. A teenage girl is raped on a date. A married woman is raped going to her car. Her husband is angry. He's angry? I'm angry! God, why does this happen? I really want to leave. I planned to collect data another 2 hours.
I begin again. The next case-he beat her up. I feel sick to my stomach. Next case, no violence here. He threatened to hurt her children and she gave in. I quickly read, page after page-a knife, a gun, all ages, all places. Tears come. This hurts. I want to leave. Let me get out of here before I get too close. I walk out the door. The sun is shining. Thank goodness. That night I don't sleep well. I wake up in the middle of the night and think of-the women.
I always collected data alone. I was 4 months pregnant with my second child at the time. I admit I harbored the thought that the majority of victims must have placed themselves in a situation that led to rape. But as I read paper after page, I found this was not always true. I was frightened by the many assaults in the victims' homes. Many included physical abuse or threat of such abuse to the victim or her children.
After collecting data for several weeks, I had a horrible nightmare that someone entered my bedroom while I was sleeping and both physically and sexually abused me. I woke up with my face wet with tears and a fear that I will never forget. I began to feel that rape is the ultimate invasion of human life, and yes, it can happen to me, but it should never happen to anyone.
While collecting data, I felt a wide range of emotional reactions. I felt anxiety, sadness, helplessness, anger, and even disgust at times. I felt anxiety and helplessness when reading about victims who were assaulted in their home or otherwise "safe" places. I felt the most sadness in relation to the very young or very old who were physically traumatized. As I read other cases, I think I made value judgments about the circumstances. At times I both blamed and pitied the victim for some responsibility in placing herself in a dangerous situation. I often left with a lump in my throat and a general sense of anxiety.
The initial emotional responses that I experienced while collecting data very closely paralleled my first responses while receiving training to become a rape counselor. I found myself very anxious and unable to focus on the task of reviewing records and coding data for more than 2 to 2H hours at a time. In addition to the anxiety, I was acutely aware of experiencing a considerable degree of anger-anger that such situations had occurred, that they would continue to occur and perhaps that I, too, might be a victim.
The positive reaction that resulted was a renewed sense of caution, again similar to earlier experience as a rape counselor. Once again, I find myself rechecking doors presumed to be locked, seeking well-lighted areas in parking lots, and being more aware of males as "strangers" and potential rapists.
I approached data collection with the preconceived idea that the majority of rapes occurred to those persons who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In reviewing the cases, I became more and more frightened, as I continued to find young mothers who were attacked in their homes. The threat of harm to their children was often the submitting factor. As a mother, I felt anger and sadness that this happened to these women, and fear in the realization that it could happen to me.
As a lifelong native of the community in which the data was collected, I found myself reacting with greater anxiety when the assault occurred in an area which I frequented or had always thought to be a "safe" place. I always collected data when another investigator was present. This was beneficial to me emotionally because I could ventilate my fears readily to another person.
PARALLELS IN REACTIONS
Many of the reactions reported by the researchers-sleeping disorders, emotional changes, somatizing, increased cautiousness, and the need for social support-closely parallel reactions experienced by rape victims (Burgess & Holmstrom, 1974; Ellis, Calhoun, & Atkeson, 1980), indicated in Table 1. The rape researchers showed a strong tendency toward the same responses and linked their reactions to identifying with the victim. None of these reactions had been anticipated by the research team.
In this study, intense reactions such as those described above did not affect the validity or reliability of the data collection, due to the case record review format. However, these reactions, in studies using other methodologies, could become a major source of researcher bias. The validity and reliability of survey data or other qualitative research methodologies could be seriously affected by such reactions during data gathering. Future researchers should be aware that similar parallel responses may occur and take them into account, both in design of the study and in the training and supervision of the research team.
The following are recommendations for ways in which future research projects may assist those collecting data on emotionally charged issues to deal with any unanticipated reactions.
1. Provide frequent opportunities for investigators to meet and discuss their reactions.
2. Give data collectors the option to review cases for short periods of time. (Four-hour time frames were too long.)
3. Tell data collectors to stop if they want and do what is necessary to reduce their anxiety.
4. Collect data in pairs or teams, or, if not feasible, the principle investigator should be available frequently for debriefing sessions.
Based on the subjective, affective reactions in this study, we strongly recommend that several research questions be addressed more systematically. How do investigators respond to the research situation when rape is studied? Do affective responses interfere with validity and reliability in rape research? What screening procedures should be implemented for research assistants who are participating in rape research on rape or other emotionally charged topics? And what are the similarities and differences in reactions to rape versus other research topics?
In summary, this note has been an attempt to describe the reactions of nurse researchers to data they were coding in rape research, to note the parallels of these reactions with reactions reported in the literature on rape victims, and to suggest ways to minimize harmful effects on researchers. The results of these experiences suggest it is important to pay particular attention to threats to validity and reliability in conducting research on emotionally charged topics. Specific measures must be designed that are both appropriate to the research method and that will reduce the potential for researcher bias.
Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our will. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Burgess, A., & Holmstrom, L. (1973). The rape victim in the emergency ward. American Journal of Nursing, 73, 1740-1745.
Burgess, A., & Holmstrom, L. (1974). Rape: Victims of crisis. Bowie, MD: Robert Brady.
de Chesnay, M., Marshall, E., Johnson, S., Lapierre, E., & Turner, L. (1985, October). Demographic predictors of sexual abuse. Paper presented at the Seventh Southeastern Regional Conference of Clinical Specialists in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing, Atlanta, GA.
Ellis, E. M., Calhoun, K. S., & Atkeson, B. M. (1980). Sexual dysfunction in victims of rape: Victims may experience a loss of sexual arousal and frightening flashbacks even one year after the assault. Women and Health, 5, 39-47.
Gelinas, D. J. (1983). The persisting negative effects of incest. Psychiatry, 46, 312-319.
Katz, S., & Mazur, M. A. (1979). Understanding the rape victim: A synthesis of research findings. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
McCahill, T., Meyer, L. C., & Fischman, A. M. (1981). The aftermath of rape. Boston, MA: D.C. Heath Company.
Moore, D. S. (1984). A literature review on sexual abuse research. Journal of Nurse Midwifery, 29, 395-398.
Acknowledgments. This study was partially funded by the University of Alabama at Birmingham Graduate School-Faculty Development Award. The principal investigator was Mary de Chesnay.
Janet G. Alexander*
Mary de Chesnay*
Arthur Ree Campbell*
Sharon Johnson[double dagger]
* University of Alabama School of Nursing, Birmingham, Alabama.
[dagger] Chippenham Hospital, Richmond, Virginia.
[double dagger] Hillcrest Hospital, Birmingham, Alabama.
Reprints. Requests for reprints should be directed to Janet G. Alexander, M.S.N., R.N., Assistant Professor, University of Alabama School of Nursing, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University Station, Birmingham, Alabama 35294.…
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Publication information: Article title: Research Note: Parallel Reactions in Rape Victims and Rape Researchers. Contributors: Alexander, Janet G. - Author, Chesnay, Mary de - Author, Marshall, Elaine - Author, Campbell, Arthur Ree - Author, Johnson, Sharon - Author, Wright, Rebecca - Author. Journal title: Violence and Victims. Volume: 4. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 1, 1989. Page number: 57+. © Springer Publishing Company 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.