Why Do So Few People Report Sexual Violence?

Topic Progress:

Introduction

Sexual assault is a criminal offence that happens frequently but is vastly underreported.  Every person has different reasons for disclosing, reporting, or not.

A victim/survivor may disclose to friends, partners, family members or teachers and/or may report to campus authorities and police (to name a few). The word “disclose” describes when a person tells someone about having been subjected to sexual violence and “report” describes when someone makes an official report to an authority.

Whether or not someone reports, it is essential that they have room to make their own informed decision and that they receive non-judgmental support.

If a person under the age of 16 discloses to you, you are legally required to alert the local child protection agency, even if this information was told to you in confidence. This is also the case for anyone under the age of 19 who was violated by a parent or guardian.

If a person under the age of 16 discloses to you, you are legally required to alert the local child protection agency, even if this information was told to you in confidence. This is also the case for anyone under the age of 19 who was violated by a parent or guardian.

Engage

There are many reasons people do not report.  Click on a reason here to get an example of what someone may be thinking. 

Engage

Those who report also have reasons for doing so.  See some reasons why people DO report.


Reason

 

A

"I want to stop the person who violated me from harming anyone else."

Reason

 

B

" I feel that it is an important part of my healing process."

Reason

 

C

" I hope it will help other survivors."

Reflection Activity:

There are many other reasons people decide not to report sexual violence. What are some you can think of?  Add your thoughts to your notes.  Below is a long list of reasons why so few people report sexual violence.

You can access all your course notes from the Course Dashboard once logged in at anytime.  For more information on how to use the Take Notes feature, visit the Course Tutorial page. (The Notes feature is only available to registered users)

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Extended Reasons for Not Reporting

Sexual assault is a criminal offence that occurs with great frequency but is vastly underreported.  There are many reasons people do not report sexual violence:

  • They are worried they will not be believed.
  • It can be re-traumatizing to tell your story to authority figures such as police officers and lawyers. It can be distressing to be questioned again and again about what happened, especially by someone who seems unaffected or doubtful.
  • Im/migrant people may be wary to report due to language barriers, cultural differences, and fear of the impact it could have on their resident status.
  • It can be difficult to establish physical evidence of sexual violence. The victim/survivor is often the only witness, which can be intimidating. Victims/survivors often feel like they are the ones on trial.
  • Distress, fear, and trauma can impair memory. Gaps in memory can make reporting sexual violence challenging, even if it occurred recently.
  • It is rare for a sexual assault charge to result in a conviction and a victim/survivor may feel that it is pointless and will only cause further emotional distress.
  • Systemic discrimination within the criminal justice system and a history of police violence makes members of many marginalized communities – such as Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA2S+ communities – hesitant to report to police.
  • The victim/survivor often knows the person who perpetrated the sexual violence. If the person is part of their family (or a friend of the family), family members may pressure them not to report. They may worry about the impact that reporting the sexual violence will have on their family. The person who perpetrated the violence may be an authority figure who has power over their life. They may fear retaliation or further harm.
  • They may be afraid that others won’t believe that the person who perpetrated the sexual violence is “capable of such a thing”. This can especially be the case when the person is a respected community member or public figure.
  • They may fear being ostracized by family, friends, or community.
  • Some people do not see what has happened to them as sexual violence. They may question whether their experience was ‘real’ sexual violence.
  • Others victims/survivors may see the violence as normal, especially if it has been passed down through generations or is a regular part of someone’s romantic/sexual relationship.
  • Many blame themselves for the violence.
  • The sexual violence may have occurred long ago or in childhood. They may have been afraid or unable to talk about the violence, or they may have repressed their memories.
  • They may not have faith that reporting to police, a criminal trial and/or incarceration will lead to rehabilitation of the perpetrator and/or healing. For example, some cultures come from a tradition of community based or restorative justice.

 There are many other reasons why people decide not to report sexual violence. These reasons may stem from past experiences, current concerns, or cultural or systemic barriers.