As we wrap up April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it’s important to keep the dialogue going and encourage everyone (ourselves included!) to keep educating themselves on the issue of sexual assault. One part we have to keep talking about is the myriad of sad reasons that many women don’t feel comfortable reporting sexual assault.
If you’ve even glanced towards the news the past few weeks, you’ll see that the topic of Bill O’Reilly has dominated headlines, especially now that they’ve finally terminated him after years of sexual assault allegations. (With a cool 25 million dollar payout, of course.) We needn’t look very far to see the malicious ways survivors of assault are treated in the media—and the O’Reilly-like wrist slapping that many men receive—to begin to grasp just a few of the reasons why many women don’t feel comfortable discussing or reporting their assault.
Sexual violence affects millions of Americans, with someone being assaulted every 98 seconds.
Women and girls experience sexual violence at very high rates, with college students being three times more likely than women in general to experience assault. Women of the same age who are not in college are four times more likely to be raped. Only 20 percent of female student report their sexual assault, and only 32 percent of non-student female victims of the same age make a report. Their reasons vary, but all are indicative of a society that does not support survivors in the way that it should.
Here are seven common reasons women don’t feel comfortable reporting their sexual assault.
1They fear for their safety and well being
A sexual assault is a violent encounter that leaves you feeling frightened, vulnerable, and traumatized. The perpetrator may threaten the victim or her loved ones if she ever speaks out about the assault. This is especially common with childhood sexual abuse and those who are in a relationship with their abusers.
Not only is this physical abuse, but it is emotional and psychological abuse as well. The victim may choose to remain silent in the hopes that it won’t happen again or to protect themselves or someone else.
2They didn’t think it was important enough to report
Assault can take a wrecking ball to your self-worth, and many people feel that the incident or, in fact, they themselves aren’t important enough to report the crime. A lack of understanding of what constitutes sexual assault also contributes to this. Groping, for example, is a serious crime but is often brushed off as part of the daily harassment that women can face.
Because we haven’t been educated properly on what sexual assault includes, women can often feel confused about whether they just experienced even constitutes as sexual assault. But it’s always better to get the truth out, even if you don’t think it’s a big deal. Because anybody violating you and your body is a very big deal, and you shouldn’t have to endure that alone.
3They’re afraid of being victim blamed
Sexual assault survivors are wildly mistreated, which makes it understandable that a woman wouldn’t want to report her rape. We’ve all heard the age-old victim blaming spanning, including “She was dressed provocatively,” “She was drunk,” “She shouldn’t walk home alone at night,” “She’s a gold digger,” and on and on.
Being sexually assaulted is traumatic enough without wanting to have your name dragged through the mud for speaking out. This is part of the larger problem of rape culture that needs to be addressed in this country, and until the general public can truly understand the ramifications of it, survivors will continue to choose not to come forward.
4They don’t want to get the perpetrator in trouble
Surveys show that seven out of every 10 rapes are committed by someone the victim knows—not a stranger. Survivors of sexual assault could have had a loving, trusting relationship with this person before the attack, and that makes it incredibly hard to wrap one’s mind around turning them in. This could be someone you are in a relationship with and are in love with, a parent, a family member, a friend. It becomes a lot harder to report someone you know when you know they’ll be in big trouble for it.
5They don’t think anyone will believe them
If ever we hear about a sexual assault in the media, were bound to also hear a chorus of people saying that the survivor is lying. For example, look at the case of Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who purposefully victimized black women and addicts because he knew they wouldn’t be believable. Luckily, he was convicted, but, unfortunately, this happens a lot.
There are many labels placed on women who are raped that make them less “believable.” The expectation of being the “perfect victim” can halt women from speaking the truth. But no matter who you are and what lifestyle you lead, no one deserves to be sexually assaulted.
6They don’t want to re-live the trauma
The majority of sexual offenders do not go to jail or prison, and the process of reporting a sexual assault to police can be almost as traumatic as the assault itself. Rape kits are extremely invasive, and having to tell your story over and over to police and during a trial period can be awful. It’s totally understandable that a survivor decides they can’t cope with all that in the aftermath of an attack.
7They’re in denial
It can be very difficult to accept that you’ve been sexually assaulted, particularly if you were intoxicated or you knew the perpetrator. Your mind can employ self-preservation techniques and you can subsequently convince yourself that what happened was not assault. It’s a way to protect yourself from any further trauma. Many times it takes years for victims to realize they were sexually assaulted.
The nuances of processing the trauma of sexual assault are different for everyone. It’s important to be aware of what resources are available to you and others in the unfortunate event that assault occurs. When in doubt, always reach out to someone you trust for help. You’re not in this alone.