Why Don’t People Report Sexual Abuse Right Away?

Image from TinyBuddha.com.

There’s a debate swirling in American politics right now about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who alleged that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a party when they were both teenagers.

The arguments have been fierce on both sides: is Ford lying? Is Kavanaugh lying? If it’s true, does it matter? Why didn’t she speak up sooner? Doesn’t that mean she’s lying?

I’m not sure if Ford’s claims are true; time will tell. But I do know how common it is for victims of sexual abuse not to report. It may take years for the truth to emerge.

Just a month ago, a grand jury in Pennsylvania compiled a report of six Catholic dioceses where 1,000 adults had come forward to testify against 300 priests who had sexually abused them. Some of these victims had waited decades to speak of their abuse to anyone.

The statistics on sexual abuse are grim.

  • One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before age 18.
  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime.
  • In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator.
  • Fewer than 10 percent of those victims will tell anyone what happened to them (see the full statistics on the National Sexual Violence Resource Center site).

Why don’t victims speak up sooner?

There are many reasons a victim may stay silent. Here are some I have seen in my career:

  • The victim was abused as a child, sometimes repeatedly, by a family member.
  • The abuser is the victim’s spouse.
  • Victims are ashamed of the circumstances surrounding the abuse, such as underage drinking or drug use and they didn’t want to get in trouble.
  • The abusers tell the victim the abuse was their fault, and the victim believed them.
  • The abusers threaten to kill the victim or their family if they said anything.
  • The abuser was in a position of power over the victim, such as a clergy member, a boss, a coach, etc.

How can I report sexual abuse?

Tell someone you trust if you’ve been sexually abused. (If you’re not sure what sexual abuse entails, you can read more about types of sexual violence here.)

It can be frightening and overwhelming to report sexual abuse. The process may dredge up painful memories. You may think that no one will believe you. But telling your story is an important first step to healing.

If you or someone you know has been sexually abused and you want to get help, please contact me. If you are not comfortable sharing your story yet, you can call the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) at (800) 656-4673 or live chat with them at https://www.rainn.org/.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

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