New York: The relative anonymity provided by online forums may help sexual abuse survivors interact where they are able to mask their identity and speak candidly about their experiences and be direct in asking for help, says a study.
The findings showed that men who survived abuse were more likely than women to use throwaway accounts to tell their stories and seek support.
Also, people are willing to ask for help — both emotional support and information — sometimes for the very first time.
Further, the additional layer of separation from identity, offered by a throwaway account, provides a level of security at which victims are willing to disclose their abuse for the very first time in their life.
Experts suggest that talking publicly about what happened can be an important part of the healing process.
“Talking about one’s experiences, feelings, and thoughts, and asking for support, are fundamental needs that often remain unmet for abuse survivors,” said Nazanin Andalibi from the Drexel University in Pennsylvania, the US.
The online forums have created alternative spaces where disclosures that might have otherwise remained silent have a voice, and people can seek support.
This is important because of the highly stigmatised context of sexual abuse and rape. Many abuse and rape events remain unreported to authorities or undisclosed to friends, family, and mental health professionals, the researchers noted.
The findings of the study was published in the Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
The researchers analysed a random group of 200 posts, pulled from a sample of more than 2,000 publicly available posts on the social networking/news website Reddit in three abuse-related forums, called subreddits.
The messages were posted over the course of 10 months in 2014. Messages were posted by a mix of participants, called redditors, some using pseudonyms and others who created one-time-use accounts dubbed “throwaways” to gain an added degree of anonymity.
The study highlights the importance of anonymous platforms and identity segmentation tools, such as throwaway accounts on Reddit, to encourage support seeking in populations that otherwise find it hard to self-disclose and ask for help, the researchers concluded.