Some people who have not experienced personal violence wonder aloud “Why don’t they report it?” A careful look at how society reacts to reported sex crimes may provide some clues. In the majority of assaults, the victim and perpetrator are acquaintances or in same social circles. Because the persons are known, relationships are called into question. Social media provides space for people to declare judgments as facts on cases where they have no direct knowledge. Recent cases show:
- The perpetrator’s potential innocence is often valued higher than the victim’s experience.
- The potential impact of punishment on the perpetrator’s life is weighted more than the impact of the crime on the victim.
Here are some of the most common reasons victims of sexual assaults do not report:
1. Fear of reprisal: Social stigma, bullying from peers. Parents/School punishment for being out, drinking, etc.
2. Fear of stress on the family and loss of relationship, housing, transportation, economic support.
3. Fear of losing job, education, children, economic support.
4. Not important enough to report. “I was drunk and I shouldn’t have been there.” “He kissed me/apologized after.”
5. Reputational risk: “Don’t want people to think I’m a drunk / loose / not a virgin.”
6. Incident was a personal matter. “Don’t want the police at my house.”
7. Fear of being exposed (e.g., gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status)
Sexual violence operates in plain sight.
Perhaps the better question is:
How can we make community safer so reporting a sexual assault is as safe as reporting a stolen vehicle?