Note that this blog is somewhat honest and graphic and a trigger warning is advised for those whom discussions and descriptions of sexual assault affect.
Last week several politicians claimed that if Ford’s claim of sexual assault was in any way true, then she should have gone to the police 30 years ago. Twitter and social media immediately lit up with stories of why sexual assault survivors didn’t report. Let me be clear, this conversation is hard for me and seeing the thousands of tweets of attempted assault or successful assault wore at my heart. I was under the weather and mostly off of social media, but I couldn’t miss the barrage of stories ranging from 50 years ago to a few days ago.
Women do not report for many reasons, and questioning their reasoning is further assaulting them. I’m going to attempt to cover some of the reasons in this blog, but it will not be a complete list and it cannot cover the many nuances and rationales for all women. I pray it is a good start to understanding the complexities of reporting sexual assault even after it immediately happens. I am only covering sexual assault to non-minors. Child abuse is an entirely different conversation and should be addressed as such. I have no experience or training besides mandatory reporting as clergy and cannot speak to rationales or experiences of those victims.
As a survivor and as a pastor trained in pastoral care for survivors of sexual assault, I never, NEVER encourage or guilt a person into reporting. I ask if they want to report and file charges, and if they say ‘no’, I move on. Period. That person (most often a woman, 1 in 4 women reportedly have experienced sexual assault, although that number is probably more like 1 in 3 due to lack of reporting) has just had or is still living the effects of someone taking their choice and agency away in the most grotesque way possible. By encouraging or guilting a victim into reporting is NOT giving them their choice back. If they say ‘yes’ I offer guidance and support, but if they say ‘no’ I let them. Why do I let them, besides letting them regain agency? Because only they have to live through the process of reporting. And I do mean live through.
The average woman that choices to report a sexual assault in the first 48 hours (it’s extremely unlikely to get an indictment after that window), sees six men before ever encountering a woman. Statistically speaking, most cops and doctors are men so this stands to reason. Have you ever considered what exactly is the crime scene of a sexual assault? It isn’t the place it occurred, it is the body that suffered the assault. Notice I said, body, not person. The bruises are measured, the victim is questioned like a witness and not a victim, and samples are taken. Rape kits are filled to test for DNA, but because sexual assault so infrequently goes to trial and is so hard to convict, most kits are never actually sent off to crime labs. Crime labs are backed up for years, and police and prosecutors focus on crimes they believe they can solve and gain a conviction.
Secondly, the vast majority of sexual assault does not occur in dark alleys by strange men in masks like Law and Order SVU leads you to believe. It is most often by a close friend, acquaintance, or intimate partner. This makes it doubly hard to prove lack of consent and the burden of proof is on the prosecution. Most victims that go to a trial state that the trial itself is worse than the assault. As they are attacked by a team of lawyers and their character assassinated. Every decision from their attire to previous relationships is held against them as if that has in bearing on being a victim. Last week, a man was tried in Alaska for strangling a woman until she became unconscious, then masturbating on her, after offering the woman a ride. He was given mild probation and the judge said, “This is your one free pass.” FREE PASS?! When did sexual assault and strangulation get FREE PASSES!! He was found guilty, but walked away a free man and the victim is further traumatized and basically told that her body or life wasn’t worth “ruining a good man”. A good man does not sexually assault someone. Someone can appear to be a good man but hide a dark side. Remember Bill Cosby, we now know that he was guilty years later.
Thirdly, even when convictions are handed down, they are rarely to the full extent of the law. Just think of the Stanford rapist. Nuff said. This tells victims that there is no point in reporting when nothing with occur.
Fourthly, It’s dangerous. Many victims were threatened with bodily harm or the perpetrator’s friends threatened silence (this is not uncommon in college fraternities).
Lastly, public shaming. Sexual assault feels shameful to the victim. They feel violated and dirty and that it might somehow be their fault because it happened to their bodies. Someone good and pure was taken from them and they are ashamed and fearful they will never get it back. Many perpetrators chose victims that are less reliable witnesses or less likely to believe. The things that people have said about Ford are horrible and awful and she has had to move to protect her family after receiving thousands of death threats and internet trolls releasing her personal address and phone number.
Franklin Graham stated that the mistakes made by a 17-year-old shouldn’t be held against a 53-year-old. Um, sexual assault is not a minor crime, the depiction of her assault is assault in the 1st degree in most states and punishable for up to 25 years in prison. A seventeen-year-old in most violent crime lawsuits are tried as adults, so he wasn’t ‘just a kid”. One former female senator stated, “What hormonal 17-year-old boy hasn’t done something like this. It’s no big deal.” Um, no. This is never ok, and I think most of the seventeen-year-olds haven’t sexually assaulted a woman. Another female senator in the same interview said, “Really. This is what she is complaining about? There wasn’t even penetration. She needs to let it go.” Trauma haunts a person, and no one gets to decide what was traumatic to another person. Women are called liars, opportunists, sluts, whores, and attention-seekers trying to destroy a good man’s life.
People say, “What if she is lying?” Statistics state that on the whole, women do not lie about this. I’m not saying it never happens, but it is extremely rare. It’s more statistically likely that a woman stays quiet than a woman lying about sexual assault. Shouldn’t it be scarier to the world that a woman might be telling the truth, and a good man go unpunished, or worse become a Supreme Court judge?
I didn’t report one of my attackers. I still haven’t a decade later, because of the reasons listed above, but if he ever runs for office or any position to lead or victimize, I would break my silence. I wouldn’t undergo the public-shaming for justice for myself, but I would like to protect the others or my country. I think it says something very powerful that I don’t deem my own body worthy of the rigors of reporting or worse trial.