Coordinated Community Response Column

The month of November does not have a designated violence prevention related national campaign, so I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss an important concern which impacts the community at large. That issue is the rate of non-reporting among individuals impacted by sexual assault.

Data compiled from the National Crime Survey from 1973 to 1991 and the National Crime Victimization Survey from 1992 to 2000 found the rate at which victims of sexual assault are reporting this crime continues to increase. While there are many reasons that support this increase, two of the more apparent explanations are an increase in resources and services provided to victims, as well as emerging large-scale media and social campaigns which help shed light on the difficulty that reporting can be for victims of sexual assault.

However despite the increase mentioned above, the rate at which victims of sexual assault reported to the authorities was still less than 50 percent according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Victimization report in 2009. There are many reasons that children and adults feel they are unable to report their sexual abuse. A common misbelief of sexual assault and rape is that most sexual abuse offenders were unrelated and unknown to the victim. Roughly 74 percent of victims knew their abuser – the offender was an acquaintance, friend, college classmate, or family member.

The following are some other reasons that might help the reader understand a victim’s challenge to report:

“No one will believe me.” This phrase is often internally communicated and replayed by a victim over and over after an assault. Abusers often threaten their victims into thinking no one will believe them. The fear that people will see the victim as a liar or, worse, that the victim will in some way get in trouble are obstacles to reporting as well.

Threats of harm to others the victim knows. Here again abusers often use coercion as a tactic to prevent a victim from reporting. It is not unusual for the abuser to threaten harm against a family pet, sibling, or close friend. This type of threat strongly promotes silence to protect someone the victim loves and knows.

“It was my fault.” Statements of self-blaming are common among sexual assault victims. Victims can often feel guilty and believe that if they had only done something differently the assault could have been prevented or avoided. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault!

The rationales listed above are just a few examples of why there is such a lack of reporting among victims of sexual assault, and while the rate at which victims of sexual assault are reporting continues to increase, this issue continues to need the support and understanding of the community at large in order to empower more and more individuals to find the immense courage to report.

If anyone is interested in more information or wants to get involved as a volunteer please contact the Door County Sexual Assault Center by phone at 920.559.7511.

This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.