Who Do Survivors of Sexual Assault Trust?
Emily Muttillo
Applied Research Fellow
November 27, 2017

The Center for Community Solutions recently had the opportunity to conduct a needs assessment for Cleveland Rape Crisis Center (CRCC). One goal of the assessment was to learn more about how residents of Cuyahoga County get connected to services. Where do survivors of sexual assault or rape turn for help? Who do people trust to help them through the trauma of surviving assault, whether the assault or rape was recent or many years ago?

To find the answers to these and other questions, Cuyahoga County residents were surveyed in August and September, 2017.  Over 900 individuals completed some or all of the survey.  The survey asked “if you needed support or services after experiencing rape or sexual assault, how would you go about finding an agency or organization to help?”  The most common answer was to ask a professional such as a doctor, nurse, teacher, professor, or caseworker.  To our surprise, this option ranked higher than using a search engine, such as Google.  Asking a friend or family member also ranked highly, as did asking a public safety officer.   In addition to choosing from one of these categories, write-in answers included seeking help through the library, RAINN, a Facebook group, mental health board, and the phone book.












Data from this question point to the importance of providing educational opportunities about sexual assault for professionals who interact with individuals as the core function of their work. Education should include instruction on the definitions of sexual assault and rape, trauma and its effects on surviving sexual assault, how to respond to a survivor immediately following disclosure (regardless of when the assault occurred), and how to provide ongoing support when appropriate.  It is necessary for those in leadership positions to provide the time and resources for their staff members to access this type of training.

In addition to knowing who people trust, we also wanted to know what might prevent survivors from seeking assistance following sexual assault. A list of common barriers was included in the survey with the instruction to select all answers that apply. The majority of people who took the survey indicated they had not experienced assault. However, for those who did experience assault, feeling shame or embarrassment was the number one barrier for seeking help, with 44 percent of survey takers who experienced assault selecting this answer. Other barriers that ranked highly were the belief that the assault was too far in the past and feeling blamed for the assault.


The recent #metoo social media campaign, along with heavy news coverage of sexual misconduct, have increased public awareness of sexual assault and rape. As awareness has increased and disclosures of assault have implicated men in powerful positions, many have questioned why survivors have not come forward earlier. Results from our local research reaffirm prior findings from years of academic study that fear, shame, embarrassment, dependence, and not being believed are very real reasons that survivors of rape or sexual assault may not disclose the assault or seek the services they need to help them heal.

Cleveland Rape Crisis Center offers multiple services to assist survivors of sexual assault and family members of survivors, including a 24 hour call/chat/text hotline, victim assistance services available during an exam or police report, client led trauma-informed therapy, and support groups. They also offer trainings and educational opportunities for community groups and schools. To learn more about Cleveland Rape Crisis Center visit www.clevelandrapecrisis.org or call 216-619-6192.