Sexual assault is a traumatic experience for any woman. Furthermore, many victims who tell others about their assault must endure a "second assault" in the form of negative reactions, such as victim blaming and disbelief. One third to two thirds of victims may experience such reactions, which have negative mental and physical health effects on the victims.

This book provides a comprehensive look at women's rape disclosure, addressing such issues as why, how often, and to whom women disclose their sexual assault; how people respond to disclosures; what factors influence how they respond to disclosures; and how these responses affect survivors.

With an ecological approach, the book considers the social context of rape, arguing that negative social reactions emanate from broader social norms and attitudes about rape. Multiple perspectives are considered, including those of survivors, informal support providers (family, friends, and intimate partners), and formal support providers (therapists, victim advocates, and others). Finally, recommendations for research, treatment, and intervention are provided.

Powerful, insightful, and provocative, this book is essential reading for everyone who works with sexual assault victims, including therapists, health care workers, victim advocates, rape researchers, policy makers, and students in any of these fields.

Table of Contents



  1. The Social Context of Talking About Sexual Assault
  2. Theories of Rape and Women's Disclosure
  3. Why, How Often, and to Whom Do Women Disclose, and What Factors Influence Whether Disclosure Is Healing?
  4. Social Reactions and Their Effects on Survivors
  5. Advocates' and Clinicians' Experiences Helping Survivors
  6. Conducting Interviews With Survivors of Sexual Assault
  7. Challenging the Rape Culture: Recommendations for Change

Further Reading



About the Author

Author Bio

Sarah E. Ullman, PhD, is a professor of criminology, law, and justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her doctorate in social/developmental psychology from Brandeis University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in health psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dr. Ullman's research interests focus on violence against women, in particular the sexual victimization of women in adulthood, including the impact of rape on women's mental and physical health, which can include posttraumatic stress disorder, suicidal behavior, problem drinking, and mental health services-seeking. She has studied women's resistance strategies and self-defense training in rape situations and the role of alcohol in sexual assault incidents.

Dr. Ullman recently completed a longitudinal study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of survivors of sexual assault that examined how social reactions from formal and informal support sources affect women's coping and recovery from sexual assault, including their posttraumatic stress disorder and substance abuse outcomes. She has also interviewed both survivors and service providers (advocates and clinicians) about their disclosure and help-seeking experiences and is developing an informal support network intervention for survivors and their social network members.

Reviews & Awards

Talking About Sexual Assault is an important contribution to the field of traumatic stress research. Whereas the greater emphasis of the book is on the social context of sexual assault, it pulls together research and theory across a broad number of disciplines and will appeal to a wide audience involved in sexual assault work.

This book is organized into seven chapters that provide a broad understanding of rape and child sexual abuse in social context. Ullman carefully considers multiple perspectives, including those of survivors and informal support providers…highly recommended.

Talking About Sexual Assault is very strongly recommended for professional, academic, and community library reference collections, and should be considered mandatory reading and study for anyone charged with the responsibility of working with a victim of sexual assault, including social workers, counselors, police, health care workers, advocates, policy makers, and researchers in the field.
The Midwest Book Review