The vast majority of victims of abuse – particularly sexual and domestic violence victims – choose not to report the crimes committed against them. In cases of rape specifically, it is approximated that no more than 20% of all assaults will ever be reported to law enforcement.
For those who have never been a victim – and even for some victims who chose to report and had a positive experience – it can be difficult to understand why someone would choose to remain silent when they have been assaulted or abused. Their silence will often lead people to assume that they’re just making the story up or “it can’t be that bad” if they won’t even tell the police about it. Many people believe that violence would not happen as often if all victims would report. The logic seems to be that the more rape victims report, the more rapists will go to jail and the safer the world will be. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
In the US, roughly 2% of all accused rapists will ever spend time in prison for their crime. Just because a victim reports, does not guarantee a guilty verdict (NOTE: a court does not need to proclaim guilt for the assault to have occurred). Nor does it guarantee that that person will never rape again.
Ultimately, it is not up to a victim to control the future actions of his/her rapist. Ending rape culture is not their responsibility. There are innumerable reasons – very valid reasons – for a person not to report. Making victims feel guilty or shamed for not reporting, “making the wrong decision”, is a dangerous attitude. Not only does it cripple that individual’s healing process but it sends a message to other victims that, unless they report, they will not receive support.
Reporting an act of violence like rape is extremely difficult. It takes a lot of courage. The outcome is out of the victim’s control and they have already lost so much control over their body through the trauma of the assault. Putting control back in the victim’s hands is one of the greatest gifts family, friends, law enforcement, advocates, etc. can give to that individual. Believe their story and support their decisions in the aftermath.
If you have been assaulted or abused, what happens next is your choice. You are the best person to decide whether or not police should be told. It’s your choice when and how to talk about what has happened to you.
A beloved past volunteer with our sexual assault response program shares her own insight into what it is like for a victim to report in her piece When a Victim Reports: Courageous Vulnerability. It’s an excellent read.