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Why Survivors May Delay Reporting or Don't Report At All

There are many people who believe someone who has been assaulted should be ready, perhaps even eager to report that assault to the police. After all, the logic goes, they were attacked. Surely, they want to see the perpetrator held responsible. However, a huge number of survivors do not ever report their attack to police, and of those who do, many do it months or years after the assault. Why is this the case? There are quite a few reasons survivors delay reporting their assault or don’t report it at all.

My personal experience with reporting assault to the police was that the experience of reporting can be and often is re-traumatizing. It is asking someone to relive their trauma and be questioned on the validity of it, the truth and if it goes to court, the defence will attempt to poke holes in their story and this experience can be traumatizing in itself. When I reported the man who had molested me as a child, the defense found ways to victim blame me which most people find shocking. How can you blame a child? He made me draw a map of the house to show where the abuse happened and where another person was present. This allowed him to claim, “If you’d called for help, someone would have heard you,” without consideration for the fact that the dynamics of the situation (such as my being a child and the threats from my abuser) made it complicated. He also did not consider that some individuals respond to traumatic situations by freezing completely. This experience is the reason why I didn’t report an assault later in life when I was an adult. I couldn’t imagine the blame I would have to deal with as an adult, if I dealt with so much for things that happened when I was a child. Even when I’d told people who were close to me, who knew me, about my assault as an adult, I’d already been blamed for it. “Are you sure you didn’t want it?” one said.

Victim Blaming

This leads into one of the major reasons for delaying or not reporting assault, victim blaming. Many survivors worry that they will be called a ‘slut’ for their actions before their assault. This may include such things as dressing ‘provocatively’ or being ‘promiscuous’. They may feel they would be blamed for “leading them on”, because they let a man buy them drinks, or went to a man’s hotel room, or consented to some acts (but not the one that was assault). Because of these attitudes, a survivor may feel their assault was their own fault. If the survivor has reported another assault in the past, they may have had an experience where exactly these sorts of attitudes were displayed, which can make it especially difficult for them to believe they will be treated fairly if they report their recent assault.

No matter what you wore or what you did, your attacker is the one who chose to assault you, and it is their fault, not yours. Please see our blog post on “victim blaming” for more information.

“Credibility” Issues

A related worry a survivor may have is that they will not be believed in their report. This may be because they know that the police may feel they lack credibility. This could be because they are a sex worker, or have a criminal record or substance abuse issue, which leads to societal stereotypes that they are ‘untrustworthy’. This may be because they were engaged in activities at the time which are not considered socially respectable, such as criminal behaviour or ‘deviant’ sexual behaviour. The survivor may have engaged in consensual acts with their attacker at a previous time or even been involved in a relationship with them, which leads many to believe, “If you consented then, it makes sense that they would think you’d be okay with it now.”

Someone may also decide not to report because they feel no one will ever believe the person who attacked them would do that. This person may be considered an “upstanding member of the community” or have a position of power. They may have connections with the police which make it very unlikely they would ever be punished. The assault may have been one that doesn’t fall into the stereotypical dynamic (where a man assaults a woman), so the survivor may feel they would not be believed because “a woman would never do that”. In some places, rape is legally defined as a man on a woman. While these places usually also allow for sexual assault charges against people of any gender, the attitude that assault is something a man does to a woman is widely held in many societies.

It has been proven that false accusations of assault are far less common than true ones, but the default attitude of many is that an accusation should not be believed without a huge amount of evidence, and anything that can be used to put a survivor’s credibility in question may be seen as fair game.

I didn't report my rape because by the time I even remembered it happened, the statute of limitations had run out (only 2 years for 13 or younger in my state) and I was nowhere near ready to go to court regardless. I'm still not two years later. I'm also a transmasc enby who was raped by a cis woman. People who are so-called "feminists" tell me that I was the "real rapist" because I'm masc-aligned or that I deserved it for being a "traitor" to women because I'm trans. There is just no real legal or societal support for victims like me.

  • anonymous

Possible Consequences

Many who have been assaulted are hesitant to report their assault because they fear there will be consequences which will cause damage to their life or the lives of others who do not deserve them. This may be information about the survivor going to people who would hold it against them or punish them for it, especially parents. Many survivors know that if their parents might punish them for behaviours such as drug use or spending time with people they had been ‘forbidden’ from seeing, or for being gay or trans. Reporting an assault might mean parents would find out about such things. Survivors who were engaging in criminal activity might worry that the police would punish them in addition to (or instead of) the one who assaulted them. Sex workers in particular often do not report assault due to a justified fear that they will be arrested themselves.

The possible consequences are often complicated. A survivor who was assaulted by a person in their social circle may feel that their friends will believe their attacker over them, so the report will cause them to lose friends. They may worry that a report will lead to their family being broken up. If the attacker is a single parent, children might end up in foster care or other situations that can seem worse in the eyes of the survivor. If the attacker is the one who brings in most or all of the income for a family, the survivor may worry that their life and those of their family might be hurt by the loss of that income when the attacker faces justice. They may also care about their attacker (especially if they’re family) and have difficulty with the idea of seeing them in prison.

People who have immigrated to a different country may also worry that reporting will lead to their deportation, whether because the person who assaulted them was their sponsor for immigration, or they fear the person who sponsored them will retaliate by withdrawing sponsorship. They also may have immigrated to the country outside of the legal process to do so, and fear making themselves visible to the government will be enough to get them deported.

It would be wonderful if people could report their assault without fear that it will end up causing a backlash that will harm them or people they care about, but this is unfortunately not reality.

i haven't reported bc i was scared of what would happen to the younger kids. (i'm crying while writing this bc i've gone through years of stress and threats and punishments and depression and adhd, plus my own disbelief that this is even happening) what would happen? i was haunted by the horror stories of foster homes and worse abuse and what would happen to my special needs little brother. was the abuse even enough to constitute a report? what was the point if people would chalk it up to regular ol' discipline? i was terrified as a minor that if i were to divulge any information into my school counselor, our family would be broken apart or worse, nothing would happen but my family would know i said something to somebody.

It’s a case of the devil you know vs the devil you don’t.

  • cherry

I didn’t report because I loved him still, and when I didn’t it was too late for evidence

  • anonymous

Not Being Ready to Face Reporting at the Time

Many survivors have too much to deal with when they are assaulted to be able to handle reporting it at that time. They may have other issues in their life at the time which are overwhelming, such as financial problems, or stress in school, work or their family. They may be going through mental or physical health issues which make it feel like they need all the energy they have just to keep their life together, without adding stress by going through the reporting process. Their assault may compound this, as they may have trauma responses to being assaulted, including the possibility that it aggravates previously developed PTSD or C-PTSD.

A survivor may have trouble clearly remembering what happened to them, especially if they were using alcohol or drugs at the time or were drugged. They may need time to mentally process the event and may be in denial that it happened, that it was non consensual or that it was a big deal. They may be afraid of the stress of the reporting process and may not have a good support system.

By the time a survivor is ready to report, it is sometimes the case that it has been too long since their assault for the legal system to respond to it.

The reason that I haven’t reported is because I have been too overwhelmed with trying to keep myself from falling apart that I don’t have the mental energy for getting justice. He has also been reported multiple times before on similar charges and nothing was done. I felt defeated before the option was even there.

  • anonymous

Not Having an Understanding That What Happened to Them Was a Crime

Many people who are assaulted do not understand that what happened to them was legally an assault. They may have been very young at the time and had their assault explained by their attacker as something innocent, like a game, or being friendly or showing love. They may have been through other assaults which seemed “worse,” making the recent assault seem like it is not a big deal, or think the recent event is not a big deal for other reasons. They may think because certain specific things did not happen, such as penetration, that it doesn’t count as criminal.

They may have confusion over consent, for instance because they had previously consented to sex or because they did not say the word, “no.” Silence is not consent and coercion is not consent. Please check out our page on “what is consent” for more information.

One reason i hadn't reported my sexual assault was because i didn't think it counted. I just thought it was my fault that weird things happened to me and i didn't tell anyone. I was twelve and he went to the same school bus stop as me. I was previously abused as a child and didn't think any of it counted as actually really bad things.

  • Hawk

The reason I never reported was because I was too young to know it was wrong and illegal, once I got older I thought it was too late and no one would believe me

  • Anonymous

Some people will push a survivor to report with the argument that, “you’re responsible if they hurt someone else.” I’m here to tell you this argument is wrong and terrible. If you don’t report your assault, or delay reporting, this does not mean it is at all your fault if the person assaults someone else. The only one to blame for the assaults a person commits is that person.

This is not an exhaustive list of reasons survivors delay reporting or don’t report at all. All of these are valid reasons, no matter how much people might pressure someone to report their assault. It doesn’t matter what their reason is, it’s valid, even if the reason is simply “I don’t want to.” The only person who should decide whether a survivor should report their assault, and when, is that survivor.

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