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Why Girls And Women Don't Report - Acceptance and Belief Often Isn't There
Not Everyone Wants To Do Something
I was sexually assaulted twice in my life.
The first time, I was almost too young to even remember it. I do remember feeling very yucky afterwards and being unable to sleep. My mom finally checked in on me and I told her what had happened. I remember my father sounding very much like a wounded animal as he went after the young man, who happened to be a distant relative whose father we were visiting.
The second time, I was in my 20s and because it wasn't the stereotypical violent assault that many of us have seen on the media, I wasn't sure what, exactly, had happened - but the same awful feeling that I'd had as a child had returned. I ended up calling the guy out very publicly and while my friends supported me at the time, I never did anything official.
There's a distinct difference between these two occasions. When I was a kid and told my parents, we essentially ran away from the location and never, ever brought up the names of the two individuals again. Ultimately, the memories became buried deep in my subconscious and didn't resurface until I'd seen a movie that was very reflective of the incident when I was young.
The second time, I had been deeply intimidated by the man's size. He towered over me and outweighed me by about 100 pounds - not an easy accomplishment given I stand six feet tall and weigh anywhere from 170 to 180 pounds.
It took me forever to realize that even as an adult, I could do something about what happened as a child. There was a victims' services fund that I could access, though that would mean bringing up what happened again. I was reasonably certain that my assaulter had died by his own hand years ago; shortly after the memories resurfaced, I had asked my mother about what had happened to him without bringing up the incident. She got a funny look on her face, told me he had committed suicide, and immediately dropped the subject. I knew better than to discuss it in greater depth, or so I thought, and the topic was never broached by me again.
After I yelled at my second assaulter in the middle of a crowded bar, there was no further talk. I remember my heart pounding almost out of my chest, and I remember him telling me, "I have needs," as his defense for what had happened. I knew I should have reported what had happened to the police, but as a reasonably naive 20-something, I was actually quite afraid of the unknown and had a gut feeling that any dealings with the police about the matter would be not good.
Both times, I felt heard - or, at least, as heard as I could have been given what had happened. When I was a kid, it was the late 1970s. There was never any discussion of sexual assault or what should happen if it happened, and certainly, there would have almost likely been a great deal of stigma involving my family. My parents did the best they could for that time frame, but back then, sexual assault was not discussed at all, and any thought of reporting would have destroyed them, emotionally.
I think I was scared of reprisal from my second assaulter. He was a big man, a firefighter, and the community I lived in was small. There was no court of public opinion that would have saved me, beyond the support of my friends, and the thought of destroying his military career made me sick to my stomach. I think I'd envisioned a range of scenarios where he would find me and try to exact his own brand of revenge, and that made it very hard to sleep, let alone contemplate reporting.
So I tried my hardest to move on, but the two assaults dogged me like a weight attached to my ankles.
I said nothing, pasted a smile on my face, and tried to act as though everything was perfectly normal.
I tried to enjoy normal relationships with men, but damn...
All of it became so very hard and very complicated, and I wasn't even fully aware of it.
It's Terribly Scary To Live With
Fear Is A Powerful Motivator
Victims, in general, can be very afraid of a variety of consequences in the aftermath of an assault. Reprisal, being ostracized, and potentially having to testify are all issues that a victim will feel concerned about. Fear of reliving the assault in their minds can also be a huge motivator in not saying anything when it comes to reporting that an assault occurred.
As with most things in life, fear can be the biggest issue that causes us to not do something. Victims know that the right thing to do is to report what happened; we are all aware of the need to try and stop the person from committing sexual assault again on another person. However, it's not as cut and dried as all that.
There is a long history of women having to justify how they were dressed, or why they were in a particular location at a particular time, or even why they behaved a particular way during their reporting process. These are all questions that, for the most part, should not need to be even asked.
Sexual assault is about power. People who commit sexual assault didn't look at their victims and think "that person looks sexy - I think I'll attack them." The power is enough of a draw, and to boil a sexual assault down to what a person was wearing or their particular behavior at the time is completely unfair.
It's Not Simple
So Why Don't Women Report?
Women don't report because of the humiliation so often associated with the process.
They have been dissected in so many ways in the past, and sometimes, that's enough to dissuade women from ever reporting another sexual assault.
Fear of what they will be perceived as following the assault - even if it's only a self-perception - is highly potent as a way of preventing the woman from reporting, too.
There's also the pure power of statistics as well; out of every 1000 assaults reported, something like 3 will end in a successful conviction. There's a certain air of "what's the point?" that goes with that. It makes it seem pointless.
Women should report, but so often, they don't. Is it right? No, but before people start jumping on any sort of bandwagon saying that women should "just report," it's important to recognize that reporting isn't just about telling someone what happened and walking away.
It's so much more.