Underserved survivors of sexual assault: a systematic scoping review

Maria Hardeberg Bach, Nina Beck Hansen, Courtney Ahrens, Cecilie Reendal Nielsen, Catherine Walshe, Maj Hansen

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    30 Citations (Scopus)
    186 Downloads (Pure)


    Background: Despite knowledge about the extensive and often long-lasting consequences of sexual assault, many survivors remain underserved by formal support systems (e.g. medical, mental health and criminal justice systems). Reasons for underutilizing services are as diverse as the survivors themselves, and little is known about which survivors are most underserved and why they are underserved. Objective: To help organize existing findings on this topic, a systematic scoping review was conducted to identify adult survivors of sexual assault, who may be particularly underserved when attempting to obtain services in Western countries. Method: Five databases (PsycINFO, Embase, MEDLINE, Scopus and CINAHL) were systematically searched for studies published in English from 2000 onwards using terms such as ‘sexual assault’, ‘help seeking’, ‘formal support’, ‘barriers’ and variations thereof. Results: A total of 41 studies were included in the present scoping review, resulting in seven main categories of underserved survivors: Ethnic and cultural minorities, Disabilities, Financial vulnerability, Sexual and gender minorities, Mental health conditions, Problematic substance use, and Older age. Barriers encountered by survivors with these characteristics included limited access to formal supports and insufficient training and awareness among service providers about how to best support survivors. Conclusions: Recommendations include the need for more survivor-centred, culturally appropriate and trauma-informed services and more attention to survivors belonging to underserved groups in policy, practice and research.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number1895516
    Number of pages15
    JournalEuropean Journal of Psychotraumatology
    Issue number1
    Early online date9 Apr 2021
    Publication statusPublished online - 9 Apr 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    These materials have received financial support from The Council of The Danish Victims Fund (as part of a larger research project under grant no. 2017/2). The authors are responsible of the execution, content, and results of the materials. The analysis and viewpoints that have been made evident from the materials belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Danish Victims Fund. The first author would like to thank The Council of The Danish Victims fund for their support. We would also thank Rikke Holm Bramsen for her valuable contributions to the research project.

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

    © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


    • Rape
    • criminal justice systems
    • diversity
    • formal supports
    • help seeking
    • mental health services
    • service provision
    • service utilization
    • sexual assault
    • underserved


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