As Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump faces scrutiny for lewd leaked audio tapes and an ever-growing list of assault accusations, rape culture and its causes has moved to the forefront of our national conversation.
It’s no secret that survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse often face victim blaming when they are brave enough to come forward and report their abusers.
However, there is another type of victim blaming that seems to get much less attention than it deserves: blaming victims for choosing not to report at all.
Survivors who choose not to report often are told that they owe it to society. That they are cowards. That they are perpetuating rape culture by letting their abusers get away with it.
There are countless nuanced and valid reasons why survivors of sexual crimes never report their perpetrators. Some survivors are hoping to shed light on these reasons through the trending #WhyWomenDontReport hashtag on Twitter.
Reason #1: Many survivors depend on their abuser for their job, education, or housing.
Economically vulnerable women are one of the demographics most likely to experience sexual violence. They often feel trapped if they are reliant on their abusers and fear what will happen when they lose the only support system they have.
Reason #2: Many survivors don’t want to relive the trauma and shame they feel.
Many victims report feeling worse about the actual process of getting a rape kit, being questioned by the police, and having to relive every last traumatic detail in court. Many would rather pick up the pieces and try to move on with their lives rather than risk their mental health with constant reminders they desperately want to forget.
Reason #3: Many survivors don’t want to face backlash, victim blaming, or accusations of lying.
This is especially true for survivors whose abusers are public figures, authority figures, or privileged members of society. Accused assailants often conduct smear campaigns against their accusers in an attempt to tarnish their credibility. Many people in denial accuse the victim of lying and refuse to acknowledge someone they know is at fault, even after they are found guilty in a court of law.
Reason #4: Many survivors don’t feel like society or the justice system is on their side.
After already enduring such a traumatic experience, survivors may feel like it's not worth it to even go to trial. Most rapists never face trial after being reported, and even fewer ever face jail time.
As the Brock Turner case recently demonstrated, even someone convicted on three felony accounts of sexual assault was incarcerated for a mere three months. Just as discouraging, DNA evidence from these crimes is collecting dust due to the country’s 400,000 rape kits that go untested or are backlogged.
Reason #5: Many survivors fear backlash and further abuse involving their family and friends.
Most victims of sexual assault know their assailant. This can cause a lot of additional anxiety and make it extremely difficult for them to speak up and tell their friends and family, let alone the police. Even worse, victims who were abused as children but do not come forward until adulthood are often discredited immediately.
Survivors who don’t report is not what perpetuates rape and assault culture. Rather, a judicial system that lacks justice, a society that lacks empathy, and abusers who lack morality are what perpetuate this nightmare of a reality.
Victim blaming is what causes many survivors to not report crimes in the first place. Further blaming them for making this difficult decision demonstrates a lack of empathy.
Victim blaming in all its forms is never acceptable. It only adds to the hurt and pain that survivors must live with for the rest of their lives. It is time for society to take a much more sophisticated and nuanced approach to understanding rape and assault culture. It is time for us to actually start listening.
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