Let’s be clear about sexual assault: The majority of survivors do not report the crime. They have their reasons, that is their right and society has no right to judge them.
It seems necessary to make that point in light of a myth perpetrated last week by President Donald Trump regarding Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of assaulting her when they were high school students. Ford is now a university professor in California and Kavanaugh is a federal judge in Washington, D.C.
Trump tweeted, “If the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.” Trump followed up this week by assailing a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, who has alleged sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh when they were college students.
What Trump is implying about not contacting the police is stunning; but, sadly, not surprising in our society. Too many people believe that myth, even though research and anecdotal evidence consistently show that many victims of crimes — particularly sexual assault and domestic violence — do not report them to law enforcement. Some may tell no one for years or ever, especially if they were teenagers when sexually assaulted.
The National Sexual Assault Resource Center lists rape as the most under-reported crime in the U.S., with 63 percent not being reported. The percentage is even higher when attempted rapes and other sexual assaults are included. Meanwhile, the number of false reports is low.
For those who do report, it might be years or decades before they are ready to do so, according to B.B. Beltran, executive director of Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS) in Eugene.
The role of SASS and similar organizations is to support survivors and help them understand their options but not tell them what to do. “We’re available. We’re free. We’re confidential. We’re not mandatory reporters,” she said. “We’re a safe place for people to discuss their options.”
Survivors’ experiences, and the way they respond to the trauma perpetrated on them, is individual to them. Each person is different, and friends and family need to respect that individuality instead of expecting them to react in a certain way. One of the worst things people can do is place a timeline or other expectations on how survivors should respond to their trauma.
The #MeToo movement has helped survivors realize they’re not alone. Beltran said SASS has seen an uptick in requests for services since the news coverage of allegations involving Bill Cosby (who was sentenced to prison on Tuesday), Harvey Weinstein and now Kavanaugh.
Those high-profile allegations mimic what happens throughout the country. Survivors who disclose their assaults are criticized for what they remember or how they responded.
In fact, Beltran said, the No. 1 reason for why so many survivors don’t report their assaults is the fear of not being believed. Their accounts may not come out in an orderly fashion. There may be gaps or inconsistencies. Trauma does that to a person.
Most perpetrators are known to the victim, not strangers. The crime is one of power and control, not sex. Already traumatized, the survivor may think the stakes are too high if the perpetrator is a well-regarded family member or a supposed pillar of the community.
Survivors often blame themselves, although they are never to blame. Nothing explains or justifies rape. Regardless of the circumstances, it takes a predatory person — not a decent human being with a conscience — to commit sexual assault.
And there is no excuse for anyone, whether the president or the co-worker chatting over coffee, to perpetuate the myths about sexual assault. Our society should endeavor to be a safer place for survivors to report. If we’ve learned anything from the #MeToo movement, we can’t let the blame games and shaming of our past continue. And shame on our president for continuing to promote that kind of distrust.