Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Shawler, M. Celeste

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Martin, Vicki Hines

Committee Member

Martin, Vicki Hines

Committee Member

Ferreira, Sandra

Committee Member

Nash, Whitney


Help-seeking behavior--South Africa; Rape victims--Medical care--South Africa; Rape victims--Psychology


There is little known about South African women’s help-seeking behavior after sexual offence victimization. South Africa is estimated to have the highest rate of rape and sexual assault globally. However, only one in six women seek health services post victimization. The importance of medical and mental health care following victimization has been clearly established. Therefore understanding more about South African women’s help-seeking after victimization is profoundly important. The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience of help-seeking behaviors of South African women after sexual offence victimization. Hermeneutic phenomenology as applied by van Manen provided the philosophical underpinnings, and van Manen’s methodological approach to conducting hermeneutic phenomenology was used. The theoretical framework for the study was Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory. Eleven semi-structured interviews with six participants were conducted. Data sources also included two books and a manuscript. Thematic data analysis was done according to van Manen. Analysis also included the four existentials of lived space, lived body, lived time and lived other. Four essential themes emerged: decision making, silence, critical junctures in mental health, and moving forward. Decision making is influenced by the perceived severity of the violence, sociocultural expectations, and, perceptions of and experiences with service providers. Silence is an accepted and often expected reaction to rape, and is described as never talking about sexual offence victimization. Silence may be in the form of a secret. Shame, self-blame, and cultural norms compel silence. Critical junctures in mental health are described as women’s experiences of psychological distress at any point in time after sexual offence victimization. These junctures may lead to worsening psychological distress or become a catalyst for seeking help. Moving forward is described as a woman’s experiences after victimization as she moves toward and into healing. It is imperative for service providers to treat victims of sexual offences with respect and dignity. All services including medical care, mental health counseling, social services, as well as police services, must be available to assure the best outcomes. However, mental health services are considered most helpful in moving forward into healing after sexual offence victimization.

Included in

Nursing Commons