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Women’s Health Project: Research for Empowerment

Kerry Gagnon, M.A. & Anne P. DePrince, Ph.D.

Have you ever wondered what women experience when they disclose a sexual assault while trying to access services at your agency or make a report to law enforcement? Or have you noticed things that are particularly helpful (or unhelpful) when you disclosed an unwanted sexual experience to service providers? If so, you may be interested in the Denver Women’s Health Project.

The Denver Women’s Health Project is a collaborative project between the Traumatic Stress Studies (TSS) Group at the University of Denver and the Sexual Assault Interagency Council (SAIC), funded by the National Institute of Justice. The project asks important questions about the ways that people respond to women who have experienced unwanted sexual experiences; and how social reactions to those experiences affect women’s well-being and engagement with community-based service providers and the criminal justice system over time.

Women (18 and older) who are interested in learning more about participating in this research project can read more by clicking here.

Agencies interested in learning more about how to help spread the word about the project can read more by clicking here.

To date, 131 women have participated in the research project. Women who have participated are from diverse backgrounds in terms of age, sexual orientation, ethnicity/race, and economic background. We hope to interview 225 women to ensure that we have enough diverse perspectives to reflect the complex ways that people’s reactions affect women following unwanted sexual experiences. For example, we ask women to share their views of reactions from the criminal justice system, health providers and counselors, as well as friends and family. To date, over half of the women we have interviewed were seen at a hospital for a SANE exam, and the majority of women expressed overwhelming appreciation for the care they received from the SANE nurse.

What is the interview like? We work to ensure that we are conducting research ethically and in a way that supports women during the interviews. To check how we’re doing, we ask women to tell us about their interview experiences using a survey called the Response to Research Questionnaire (RRPQ; Newman & Kaloupex, 2001, 2004). This survey helps us pay close attention to potentially positive (e.g., gaining individual insight and meaning, beliefs about the importance of research) as well as negative (unexpected and negative emotions during participation) responses women might have. So far, we find that women report that the positive aspects of participating far outweigh the negative. Women have also left us written comments, many of which express relief and gratitude that research is being done on this topic.

We believe research can be a tool for empowerment and change. We are grateful to the women who have shared their stories and voices with us, offering a critically important opportunity to identify what works (and doesn’t work) to support women in the aftermath of sexual assault. With SAIC, we look forward to the ways that learning through this project can inform how our community responds to sexual assault.

Image courtesy of: http://www.du.edu/tssgroup/media/images/womenshealth2.jpg

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