Reporting a sexual assault is an enormous decision. The outcome is unknown and the trauma is fresh. There are good things which may come out of reporting and painful things which may come out of reporting. Some survivors regret reporting. Others regret that they did not report.
“There is no right way to heal, and no right way to prosecute sexual assault: do not regret what you did or didn’t do” (Talena Lydia).
Rape and sexual assault are far more common than the world at large wants to admit, and the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults are never even reported.
The survey (completed by over 1,600 women) shows that, of respondents:
- One in 10 (10%) had been raped
- Over one-third (35%) had been sexually assaulted
- 17% had been raped and sexually assaulted
- Meaning in total, 27% of respondents had been raped, and 52% had been been sexually assaulted.
- One in four (23%) of those who had been raped or sexually assaulted had experienced this four or more times
- In two-thirds (66%) of cases the women knew the person responsible
Many women felt unable to report rape or sexual assault:
- Over four-fifths (83%) of respondents who had been raped or sexually assaulted did not make a report to the police
- Over one-quarter (29%) didn’t tell anyone at all, including friends or family, about the assault/rape
- Over two-thirds (68%) said they would hesitate reporting to the police due to low conviction rates
- And over half (53%) would not report due to embarrassment or shame
The results also reveal that most women feel that rape victims are treated poorly:
- Nearly three-quarters (70%) of respondents feel the media is unsympathetic to women who report rape.
- Over half (53%) feel the legal system is unsympathetic.
- And over half (55%) feel society at large is unsympathetic.
Sexual violence is one of the most under-reported crimes in the world. Men and women choose not to report rape for various, often similar reasons. Rape and sexual assault are extremely personal crimes. The psychological trauma often increases when a victim considers having to discuss the details of what was done to them.
There is a natural fear of rejection or lack of sympathy from family, friends and culture, shame and humiliation, disapproval or victim blaming. There is also a fear – often times well founded – that the assailant will not be prosecuted, that reporting would be a waste of energy.
“There are increased barriers for any sexual-assault victims, men or women, and all these barriers are that much higher for men,” says Susan Howley, public-policy director at the National Center for Victims of Crime, a Washington, D.C., advocacy organization. While women face judgment from a society which tells them “don’t be raped”, men face the judgment of a society which tells them “you’re supposed to be able to defend yourself”.
Cultural “femininity” leads to objectification and an expectation for violence against women. Cultural “manliness” does not allow men to become victims of sexual violence. So, the 1 in 4 women who have been assaulted are left questioning their value as a female member of a rape society. The 1 in 6 men who have been assaulted are left to question their sexuality and their value as a male member of a rape society.
As an adult, whether you report is completely up to you (mandatory reporting is expected for child abuse). Only you can make that decision because only you know what you are experiencing.
It is not uncommon for victims to be told, “If you don’t report, this could happen to someone else.” Bear in mind, it could happen to someone else whether you report or not. Do not allow the future hypothetical actions of your assailant add any guilt to your decision. It is not your responsibility to prevent another person from committing rape or assault. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself.
There are many positive effects to reporting sexual assault just as there may be negative effects. If possible, try to contact a local sexual assault crisis center or legal advocate office to get answers to any questions you might have about the pros and cons of reporting.
Whether a person reports or not, it is highly recommended to seek medical assistance. If a report is filed, evidence can be collected. However, regardless of whether or not the police become involved, a forensic nurse examiner can identify internal injuries and test for STDs, HIV, and pregnancy. A medical exam can increase a victim’s peace of mind and ensure that their health is monitored. It can also be an avenue by which a victim can be connected with a local crisis center to receive counseling and support.
It is never too late to get help.