By Makayla Sundquist
Trigger Warning: This post discusses multiple survivors’ sexual assault experiences and may be triggering for others who have also experienced sexual assault.
If you have been keeping up with the University of Idaho news lately, you will notice the attention a 2013 sexual assault case is getting. The Idaho Statesman recently discovered a survivor’s testimony on a blog site, and ran a story that covered the investigation. (Read here). Long story short, the survivors did not receive the help from the athletic department they needed. Both people involved were athletes at UI, but the athletic department only protected the assaulter. The survivors then went to the Women’s Center, and the staff there took the case to the Dean of Students for an investigation. The assaulter was no longer allowed to play football at UI. However, he is now playing for a team in New York (which I do not agree with, but that is a conversation for another day).
Throughout all of this buzz, I have heard some comments questioning why the survivor did not go directly to the Dean of Students. Some of these comments were in poor taste. Others were genuinely curious. Even though the two women who were sexually assaulted at UI chose to report their assault to the police and the athletic department, it is common for survivors to never report. But why?
There are many reasons why survivors choose to remain silent, and many survivors do remain silent. RAINN statistics mentioned that only 310 incidents of sexual assault get reported. That means every 2 out of 3 are not being reported. Why is that?
The relationship to the perpetrator is correlated to the likelihood that the survivor will choose to report their sexual assault. If the perpetrator is an intimate, or was an intimate partner, only 25% of the incidents of assault will be reported. If the assaulter was a friend or an acquaintance, only 18%-40% of the cases will be reported. Stranger assaults have the highest reporting rate at 60%. The relationship is an important component, because if the survivor knew their attacker well, they may fear that reporting the attack will disrupt their established social circles. They also could fear getting their attacker in legal trouble, if there was an intimate relationship.
Other reasons survivors choose not to report could include: feeling guilty or ashamed of the event, feeling responsible for the attack, not believing the assault was legitimate enough to constitute a report, or believing the police could not assist. Court trials are emotionally draining, and having to relive the trauma of an assault might be too triggering for some people. Another depressing reason as to why survivors may not report their assault is because many rapists and assaulters do not see prison time. (For instance, the attacker in the news article regarding the assault at UI). RAINN stated that out of every 1000 rapes, only 6 rapists will see jail time. That means 994 will walk free. Knowing that the probability is high your attacker will win in court, makes reporting and charging the attacker even more daunting.
A* was scared to report her assault, because she feared retaliation from her assaulter. She met a man at a party. They took a walk across campus. He forced her down on her knees, and stated that because it was his birthday she was obligated to give him a blowjob. A* felt disgusted the whole time, but was worried if she reported her assault, he would become confrontational. She also knew the man as an acquaintance and worried about continually seeing him after filing a report.
Another reason why survivors choose not to report their assault is that they feel guilty. Many question their decisions leading up to the attack. They blame themselves for not being more careful. In a personal testament from S*, she describes why she chose not to report her assault:
“I felt ashamed that I had gotten myself into that situation, and because I was drinking, I did not think that I had grounds to be supported.”
S* also states that she did not know her attacker, and felt as though her intoxication made her less capable of reporting the attack–even though her attacker was sober. Alcohol can make many survivors feel as though the attack could have been prevented if they were not drinking. Thus, enforcing the survivor’s guilt.
Sexual assault can also cause a survivor to feel powerless, and consequently feel shame. This makes the survivor not want to report their assault, because they fear the humiliation that often accompanies shame. When human beings are not in control of their situations, helplessness can occur. These feelings of helplessness cause people to believe they cannot defend themselves, and this can also cause shame. It is easier to blame yourself than admit you were left powerless in a situation.
Other reasons survivors choose not to report could be the minimization of the event. Some survivors believe that because they were not raped, their assault is not valid enough to be reported. They downplay the assault and devalue what happened to them, because they believe it was not as bad. However, this becomes dangerous, as the minimization of assault can sometimes lead to depression. Minimizing the assault can lead to behaviors that cause the survivor to value themselves as lesser.
In another personal testimony, F* stated that she experienced sexual assault during a trip to Cape Town, South Africa. F* stated that she booked a man to give her boyfriend and her massages in the home they were staying at. After the massage therapist assaulted her, F* said all she wanted to do was heal. She stated that she did not want to come back to the United States and fight the legal battle. She was told that the police in South Africa are not helpful in solving sexual assault cases. F* stated that she wanted to forget the assault and going to trial would make it difficult to heal.
In a final statement, G* states that she was assaulted her freshman year of college, after meeting a senior football player. She went home with him, but stated multiple times she would not have sex with him. He was very persistent. He continued to grope and fondle her in bed. G* stated that she eventually had sex with him so that he would leave her alone. G* left as soon as it was light enough to see the way back to her dorm. She stated that when she told her friends they said, “sounded like a crazy night,” and his friends laughed at her. She mentioned that, at the time, she did not know this was assault and that is why she did not report what happened to her.
To the survivors of sexual assault: you are not alone, and you have the choice to report or not to report.
Not reporting your assault does not make the instance any less traumatic or valid. However, should anyone need a person to confide in, the Women’s Center provides services for those who have experienced a sexual assault. The Women’s Center does report instances to Title IX, but names and other identifying details are left out. If you want to report the assault, the Women’s Center can also help take your case to the Dean of Students. Another helpful piece of advice for those in the Palouse Area: the Pullman Planned Parenthood provides the “morning after” pill to help prevent pregnancy.
Experiencing assault is never easy. Yet, seeking out resources and counseling can help alleviate some of the trauma of experiencing an assault.
*Letters do not correspond with survivors’ names and have been used for anonymity