Story by Julie Archer
Photo by Kessley Miller
Why do people not report sexual assault? This question is asked often, especially with the recent confirmation of Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh amidst sexual assault allegations from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. People tend to blame survivors because they do not understand why they would hesitate to report assault. When people affected by sexual assault don’t immediately come forward, people generally tend to think they are less credible.
According to the National Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime. Rape is the most underreported crime, as 63 percent of sexual assaults are unreported.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, sexual assault is defined as “illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent (because of age or physical or mental incapacity) or who places the assailant (such as a doctor) in a position of trust or authority.”
Examples of sexual assault may include but are not limited to rape, attempted rape, any sexual contact with someone who is unable to consent, incest, sexual contact with a child, fondling or unwanted touching, exhibitionism, sexual threats or harassment, forcing someone to pose for photos and sexual coercion, according to HealthyWomen.org.
Fear of Repercussions
Consequences of what will happen if they report sexual assault is a major obstacle that many survivors face. There are constant fears; fear of safety, fear of losing their employment or fear of losing trust are a few of the fears people could have. Some people experience their abusers threatening their lives if they ever spoke out about their trauma. Some abusers could be or have connections to a position of power.
Many people do not report sexual assault because of the fear of losing their credibility. There are cases in which survivors are not taken seriously because of the power their abusers may have. When the perpetrator is in a powerful position, reporting such acts could make things worse for the survivor.
When survivors report, they are often faced with judgment as opposed to support. Instead of being asked about the perpetrator’s actions or explicitly blaming the victim, equally insidiously, those told about the assault may focus largely on what the survivor could have done to prevent their trauma. They are asked about what they were wearing or how much they had to drink. As stated above in the Merriam-Webster definition of sexual assault, it clearly stated, “a person who is incapable of giving consent,” yet they are still held at fault if they were intoxicated.
“The biggest impact society has is blaming the victim, giving all the reasons why they ‘deserved it’, and the overall stigma we associate with being the victim of sexual assault, it is one of the few crimes where the victim is judged,” Tara Hall, Professor of Sociology at Rose State, said.
Children and young adults do not always understand the concept of consent. If they are survivors, they may think that what happened to them was their fault because of their lack of action.
Who is the abuser?
According to The NVRC, 1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime. When a victim is assaulted by someone they trust, it can be hard to tell anyone because the person they may be closest to may be the same person who assaulted them. This is a common issue with sexual assault in children, since it is usually a family member or close friend who is the perpetrator. The NVRC reports that 34 percent of people who sexually abuse children are family members.
Survivor of sexual assault often do not see a way out of their situation. There can be a feeling of powerlessness after any traumatic event. Statistics show that 81 percent of women and 35 percent of men report significant short-term or long-term impacts such as post-traumatic stress disorder after experiencing sexual assault.
Survivors sometimes feel it is useless to report their sexual assault because they see how both survivors and assailants are treated after sexual assaults are reported.
Instead of receiving help and support when needed most, there is a risk of making matters worse when reporting an assault. Given these odds, a lot of people feel that there is no hope.
Where is the evidence?
While being sexually assaulted is traumatic on its own, reporting it forces the person to relive the whole experience. There is a fear of not having enough evidence to support their claims. It is recommended that the survivor receives medical attention. There are also sexual assault forensic exams to check for DNA evidence. Rape kits are used during a rape examination. During the examination, hair, urine, nail and blood tests are taken to determine if the person was raped. Rape exams can take four to six hours. The thought of going through an invasive and uncomfortable exam can keep survivors from reporting.
Without the evidence that the public wants, it is easier for people to victim shame or make the survivors look like they are not telling the truth.
Survivors can often downplay their own experience because they do not want to think about what happened to them. Some people think that their situations are not as serious as others, so they feel that it is not necessary to report it. After a person goes through a traumatic event, the human brain can block out the event. This makes it difficult to recall the details while reporting their trauma. There is a tendency for people to feel shameful and blame themselves for what happened to them.
There are many reasons why people do not report sexual assault. According to University of Michigan’s Sexual Assault and Awareness Center, there were 136 victims among 99 sex offenders. Later, during treatment, they confessed to 959 victims between them. Perpetrators that go unreported end up doing the same thing to another person.
Many groups encourage people to report sexual assault. Women’s March is one such organization. Members said people should feel safe through proper, public support systems to speak up so the abusers are brought to justice, and said it is time to evaluate as a society why we allow sexual assault and harassment to continue. One way to do this is instead of asking victims why they did not report it, give them the support they need and ask what can be done to prevent future assaults.
If you or anyone you know have been sexually assaulted and need help, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673.
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