Why Should We Care About the Science? Understanding the Impact of Sexual Assault on Victim Responses, Behaviors, and Memories

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90 Minutes

Originally Aired
February 9, 2022

Kim Lonsway
Kimberly A. Lonsway, Ph.D.
Director of Research, EVAWI

When we understand the basics of how people commonly respond to sexual assault, and how stress and trauma can alter memory processes, we benefit in many ways. One primary benefit of understanding this science is that it creates more realistic expectations of how people might respond during a sexual assault, and how they encode and store memories of that event. A second benefit is to listen more perceptively to victim responses. By listening to the victim’s account without assumptions or bias, we are less likely to miss or misunderstand valuable information.

Another benefit of trauma-informed interviewing is that it is better for victims. If the purpose of an interview with a sexual assault victim is to facilitate memory retrieval and disclosure, then it is important to recognize these dynamics and take steps to reduce the stress victims are experiencing, both from the sexual assault and the interview itself.

Yet the ultimate benefit is to improve the effectiveness of information-gathering. By applying a scientific understanding of trauma and trauma-informed interviewing principles, investigators can help victims to recall and share details about their sexual assault. These details will then guide the resulting investigation, including interviews with respondents and witnesses, other types of evidence, and corroborative information. Decision makers can piece these details together to compile a more comprehensive and evidence-based account of the sexual assault, and enhance case determinations.


At the conclusion of this webinar, participants will be better able to:

  • Explore how behavior and memory processes can be impacted during a traumatic event.
  • Apply this knowledge to set realistic expectations for the behaviors, responses, and memories of sexual assault victims.
  • Improve information gathering for thorough, evidence-based case determinations.


EVAWI is approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing to provide Continuing Education contact hours for nurses (Provider #15641).

Registered Nurses may purchase 1.5 contact hours after completing this webinar.

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