Social network responses to victims of potentially traumatic events: A systematic review using qualitative evidence synthesis

Marieke Saan*, Floryt Van Wesel, Sonja Leferink, Joop Hox, Hennie Boeije, Peter Van Der Velden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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A substantial number of qualitative studies examined how adult victims of potentially traumatic events (PTEs) experienced support provided by family members, friends, colleagues, and other significant others in the informal network. Importantly, the large majority of qualitative studies focused on the perceived support of victims of specific events such as sexual offences, partner violence, homicide, accidents and disasters. Although it is likely that across specific PTEs there are similarities as well as differences in experienced support from the informal network, to date no systematic review synthesized the results of qualitative studies on support from the informal network following various types of PTEs. The aim of the present systematic review is to fill this gap in the scientific knowledge, which is also highly relevant for victim services, policymakers, and the informal network.

A literature search of qualitative studies was conducted using the electronic databases of PubMed, Web of Science, CINAHL, Psych INFO, Scopus, Criminal Justice Abstracts and Picarta. The quality of the identified studies was assessed with the Consolidated Criteria for Reporting Qualitative research (COREQ) checklist, followed by analysis of the results of the identified studies using Qualitative Evidence Synthesis.

Seventy-five papers were included in the synthesis, involving 2799 victims of PTEs such as accidents, disasters, homicide, intimate partner violence (IPV), and sexual offences. Saturation was only achieved for IPV. Overall, four major categories of perceived social support were identified, namely, support perceived as supportive, supportive but insufficient, unsupportive, and absent from informal support providers, which included friends, family, neighbors, (if applicable) offender’s family, religious group members, work/school colleagues, fellow victims, the local community, and the social network in general. Across the PTE groups, there were similarities in experiencing positive forms of support (particularly empathy and sharing experiences) as well as negative forms of support (abandonment, avoidance, lack of empathy, and not experiencing support despite victim’s request for help). There were also differences across PTE groups, in particular, victims of sexual and intimate partner violence mentioned a number of other supportive (mobilizing support, no unsupportive responses) and non-supportive (e.g., justification or normalization of violence and minimizing responses) responses.

The review showed that different actors within the social informal network can play an important role in providing support after victims experience violence, homicide, accidents, and disasters. However, the review revealed that the large majority of qualitative studies were aimed at victims of IPV, and only for this type of PTE was saturation achieved. This indicates that, although this synthesis identified several similarities and differences, it is still too early to draw more definitive conclusions on similarities and differences in experienced social support after various PTEs and that future qualitative studies focusing on other PTEs are much needed.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0276476
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Intimate Partner Violence
  • Sex Offenses
  • Social Networking
  • Social Support
  • Violence


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