Why Don't Rape Victims Come Forward Straight Away?
The BIG Question Many Are Asking is "Why now?"
With more and more survivors of Harvey Weinstein's sexual abuse coming forward many people are asking...
- Why now?
- Why have victims waited so long?
- Why didn't they report what had happened to them at the time that it happened?
The underlying feeling among the these commentators is that the women have an ulterior motive in coming forward now.
Maybe they're just trying to get fame. Publicity for their new book. Or maybe they're wringing their hands in anticipation of big compensation pay outs.
While I can't say with 100% certainty that those are not the reasons women are coming forward, I believe they are very unlikely. You really need to know the immediate and long term effects of rape to understand why.
As someone who has experienced rape and sexual assault myself, let me educate you about the personal effects of these crimes and why going to the police straight away is often the furthest thing from a victims mind.
8 Valid Reasons Women (& Men) Don't Report Rape
Two thirds of ALL sexual assaults and rapes go unreported. There are so many reasons why that might be the case but here I offer an account of my own personal experiences, feelings and reactions to rape. They may be vastly different reasons to the women who have accused Harvey Weinstein, or indeed any other woman that has been sexually assaulted...but I'm pretty certain that all of them would find some common themes and experiences here.
1. I COULDN'T FIND ANY WORDS
My initial reaction to the devastation that is rape, was shock.
I simply couldn't get my head around what had happened.
I felt confused. Spaced out. Disassociated.
The perpetrator, my boyfriend, had left the apartment and there was no one else there to talk to about what had happened. Maybe that's the difference between those who report and those who don't - having someone very nearby to tell you that's what you need to do. To take your hand and guide you. I didn't have that.
For me it wasn't even a notion that entered my head. I spent two weeks absolutely dazed.
2. I DIDN'T WANT ANYONE TO KNOW
I didn't recognise the feeling for a long while but the primary emotion was shame. I felt that somehow there was something intrinsically wrong with me for this to have happened.
I didn't tell anyone at all about it for many months, and even then it was just a very brief conversation with a close friend where the R word wasn't mentioned. Over a year later I started seeing a counsellor because I was suffering from a depression I didn't know the cause of. She was the one who first used the word rape to describe my experience.
Think about that.
My head was so messed up it took me over a year to truly identify what had happened to me.
I didn't tell my Mother until over 5 years after the event, and the majority of people that know me now don't know what I went through.
I would guess that this is quite a common reaction, especially when you're very young as I was. Just 19 years old.
3. I THOUGHT I WAS TO BLAME
Until I had that counselling, I really thought that I was to blame for the experience. I thought that I'd done something wrong. That I'd brought it on myself. Looking back to that time 25 years ago I can't understand WHY I thought that. It was OBVIOUSLY NOT MY FAULT. I had tried with all my strength to fight him off, yet I still 100% believed it was down to me.
Maybe that automatic sense of taking the blame was down to cultural conditioning, or inexperience and naivety, or our unconscious notions of gender roles, or maybe some way of psychologically gaining control over the experience. I don't know the answer, but I do that it is a common reaction to rape.
4. NOT WANTING A SECOND INVASION
For those that do recognise what has happened to them and who also think about going to the police, I can absolutely understand why they often choose not to. You have already had your privacy, your boundaries and your will, completely trashed and disrespected. To go down the route of telling the police requires that you have your privacy and boundaries INVADED ALL OVER AGAIN by TOTAL STRANGERS.
- You have to SUBMIT to an intrusive medical examination
- You have to SUBMIT to probing, difficult questions
- You have to SUBMIT to weeks or months of reliving and retelling the experience
When you are in a very fragile and vulnerable state that is a step too far for many women.
5. WHO WOULD BELIEVE ME ANYWAY?
While things have improved over the last few decades it was and is still often the case that women are not believed by the authorities and sent on their way. Especially if it's a few days or weeks after the event when any forensic evidence has been destroyed it comes down to a simple case of who to believe.
Imagine how that might feel.
You've been though an emotionally and psychologically devastating experience. You feel totally raw and vulnerable. And then you are essentially told you're a liar and/or that there's not enough evidence and any action is POINTLESS.
Just 57 out of 310 reported rapes or sexual assault accused perpetrators are arrested.
Not many people want to put themselves through that, whether they're in the public eye or not. In fact just one third of people do.
6. THE PROSPECT OF HAVING TO RELIVE THE TRAUMA PUBLICLY
So let's assume you did manage to go to the police, and they did believe you, and they did find some evidence to take to trial. You now have to expose your shame, your psychological scars, SUBMIT to deeply personal questioning from nasty lawyers while RELIVING THE TRAUMA all over again in a totally PUBLIC FORUM.
Without doubt you will have your morals, your character and your decency trashed in that court room. You will be treated by the defence like a whore and will be once again be stripped bare.
Only the bravest of the brave can go through this and I was not ever going to be one of them. I was already traumatised enough.
7. KNOWLEDGE THAT THE PERPETRATOR IS 50% LIKELY TO BE FOUND NOT GUILTY
As women we know that a high percentage of rape and sexual assault cases that go to trial will end in a not guilty verdict. In fact out of 310 rapes and sexual assaults that are reported to police just 11 get referred to prosecutors and only 6 will be incarcerated.
One of the major reasons for this is that there are usually only 2 people present at the time of such a crime and so it is one persons word against another. We know this and it's why the whole process often feels like an insurmountable obstacle. You go through all the trauma of a trial only to risk seeing your perpetrator walk free.
8. RAPE IS PERSONALLY DEVASTATING
This should be obvious, but maybe it's hard to empathise with if you've never been through it. It's hard to describe in words how crushed I was by being raped. I felt obliterated, psychologically and emotionally, not just for weeks or months, but for years and years.
In the long term I suffered with major depressive episodes, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks, and an inability to trust even those closest to me. Because all of the most serious assaults I endured were committed by people I knew extremely well - one was a partner and two were by very close friends - I shut myself off from everyone. How do I know who to trust? was a question that lived inside every cell of my body at all times. The loneliness that ensued almost drove me to suicide.
It'll come as no surprise that every single part of my life suffered.
Strength in Numbers
These 8 reasons are why I completely understand why the women Harvey Weinstein is accused of assaulting haven't come forward until now. It's simply easier to be brave when you're one of many. When other women report the same or similar experience with the same person it gives you hope that you'll be believed. It gives you a feeling that you're not in this on your own. That other people understand. That finally there may be some recourse for the crime that was committed to you.
Next time before you jump into the mindset of victim blaming, and wondering why she didn't drag herself straight round to the nearest police station, you need to put yourself in the victim's shoes for a few minutes.
How might she or he have felt in the hours, weeks and months afterwards?
Find some empathy.
Show some compassion.
Find your humanity.
Let's End the Culture of Silence
I for one am SO glad that women are feeling emboldened to come forward and say what has happened to them by the hands of Harvey Weinstein.
WHEN victims come forward is inconsequential.
What matters is that some have been brave enough to do so.
Because coming forward is such a hard thing to do whether the assault happened yesterday, last month or a decade ago.
I applaud them wholeheartedly because I was never that courageous.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Susana Smith