Why Do People Find It Hard To Believe The Victims Of Sexual Assault?

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It’s no secret that sexual assaults are vastly underreported – on average, it’s estimated that only about 35% of all assaults are reported to the police. What many people wonder is why the victims don’t immediately come forward and identify their attacker. Sadly, the reasons why are frequently connected to the rape culture that has been allowed to continue in our society for thousands of years and has only been truly challenged in recent years.

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Reasons Why Victims Don’t Report

According to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, victims have said that they didn’t report their assault because:

  • They feared their attacker would retaliate.
  • They believed the police wouldn’t do anything and their attacker would remain free.
  • They wanted to handle it personally.
  • They knew their attacker and didn’t want to get them in trouble.
  • They didn’t think anyone would believe them.
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It’s difficult to not understand these reasons, especially since out of every 1000 rapes, an average of only 6 of the rapists will be sent to prison. In addition to this, as numerous cases have recently highlighted, people are more likely to question or dismiss a victim’s report then they are to believe it. But why?

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The Top Reasons Why Victims Aren’t Believed

Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Dr. Larry Nassar, and numerous pro-athletes are just some of the men who have been accused of attacking at least one women and often more than one. Yet in each case, almost immediately without waiting to hear the victim’s story or learn about evidence, people decide to support the alleged attacker and question the validity of the victim’s report. Research has shown that this is frequently because:

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  1. Rape Culture Places Blame On The Victim: Historically, even in ancient civilizations, rape wasn’t seen as a crime against the victim, if the victim was female. Instead, unless the woman could prove she screamed for help or fought her attacker, both the attacker and victim would be put to death. In some cases, if she could prove she had been a virgin at the time of the rape, she was allowed to live and the case was seen as a property crime against her father.  While this certainly isn’t the case today, victim blaming regularly occurs and is one of the most common issues a victim faces. This usually comes in the form of questions like “Well, what were you wearing?” or “Did you do something to make him think it was ok?”
  2. Society Believes Women Lie: Numerous studies have been performed which reveal something shocking: Generally, when a woman is speaking about herself, people find her more trustworthy than a man, however, if the topic they are speaking of includes just one other person, their believability dramatically drops. Yet several studies have all found the same thing – that only about 2% – 8% of all sexual assault reports are false.
  3. Victims Frequently “Dissociate”: Another well-known fact is that victims of sexual assault are often diagnosed with PTSD. But what most people don’t understand is that PTSD can cause the victim to dissociate, or feel is though they have just mentally been removed from their specific circumstances. Visually, this can come across as expressionless, emotionless, and quiet. It’s the opposite of what is expected – most people expect the victim to cry and ask for help and this lack of physical reaction makes others question how upset a victim really is.
  4. The Alleged Attacker Is Familiar: Whether it’s someone famous, a friend, or family member, people don’t want to believe that someone they have known, loved, and admired for years is actually the villain in someone else’s story. For example, even though Bill Cosby admitted under oath that he used Quaaludes to drug women he wanted to have sex with and dozens of women have come forward, all describing a similar scenario in which he drugged and then sexually assaulted him, there are still some that claim these women are only trying to get money. These people don’t want to believe that a man who stood as a fatherly symbol on TV for so many years could commit horrific crimes.
  5. They Don’t Want To Believe They Could Have Prevented It: It’s easier to believe that a victim is lying than to face the reality that you may have seen obvious signs of abuse and ignored them.

A Failure To Take Responsibility

Just recently Rachel Denhollander, who has accused Dr. Larry Nassar of sexual assault wrote an open letter to MSU President Simon regarding a statement she made about how the university handled Nassar.

In the statement, which was made during an MSU Board of Trustees meeting, Simon said: “I have been told that it is virtually impossible to stop a determined sexual predator and pedophile, that they will go to incomprehensible lengths to keep what they do in the shadows.”

In response, Denhollander provided numerous studies which show that time and time again, predators go unstopped because the victim isn’t believed, mostly because even with evidence, adults and those in charge don’t want to believe.

That certainly seems to be the case with Nassar and MSU. Since his arrest, investigations have revealed that young women reported that he sexually assaulted them as far back as 1997, only to have their reports dismissed by the gymnastics coach. In another case, when a student athlete reported that he had penetrated her, the athletic department determined she has “misunderstood” what he was doing to her and had instead decided his actions were appropriate medical actions. Then again in 2014, a Title IX investigation at the university determined that the victim “misunderstood” and only made the report because she didn’t understand that his penetration was actually medical treatment.

Instead of helping his many victims and reporting his inappropriate actions, the school instead brushed these reports off and allowed him to continue working. It wasn’t until they discovered that he had violated restrictions set in place after the Title IX investigation that he was fired.

This is just one example of the thousands of sexual assaults that could have been prevented around the country if just one person had spoken up and believed the victim.

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