The recent Senate hearings that ended with the confirmation of the newest member of the Supreme Court focused national attention on unreported sexual assaults. The news and social media exploded with theories about why sexual assault victims might not report an attack and speculation about the trustworthiness of accounts of sexual assault from a victim who waited decades to tell her story. Even the president of the United States weighed in by offering his opinion that failing to immediately report a sexual assault creates doubt about whether it actually occurred. There is ample evidence to support the conclusion that failing to report a sexual assault does not make the person less of a victim than someone who does.
Most Sexual Assaults Go Unreported
One out of every five women in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime, and up to 25 percent of college women are victims of sexual violence on campus. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice, only 23 percent of sexual assault and rape victims report the attacks to law enforcement.
The fact that a victim chooses not to report an assault should not be used as a basis for judging the truth of the allegation. Every victim reacts differently to a sexual assault. The following are only a few of the reasons given by victims for not reporting an attack:
• Feeling they were at fault: Questions from law enforcement officials, family members and friends instill a belief that the victim was somehow at fault in causing it to occur. Asking victims about the clothing they wore, whether they had been drinking and the extent to which they fought against the attack can reinforce the idea that the victim brought on the attack or did not do enough to prevent or stop it.
• Fear of not being believed: This is common when the attacker is a family member or an authority figure, such as a teacher or well-respected member of the community.
• Desire to put it behind them: Describing the details of a sexual assault forces a victim to relive the pain, fear, and humiliation over and over again with each retelling. Some victims prefer to remain silent instead of reliving actress Alyssa Milano described as “one of the worst moments” of her life.
Some victims of sexual assault who have gone to law enforcement officials have expressed regret at doing so. Police investigators are focused on gathering the evidence they know is needed to build a case against the offender to obtain a conviction, but it could add to the trauma already suffered by the victim. California has taken steps to protect the rights of victims regardless of whether they choose to report an assault or not.
Letting Sexual Assault Victims Know They Have Rights
The law in California recognizes the difficulties sexual assault victims face following an attack and attempts to get as much information to them as possible about their rights regardless of whether or not they choose to cooperate in prosecuting their attacker. California Penal Code §680.2 requires medical providers and law enforcement officials to give a card to victims of sexual assault outlining their rights.
The card lets victims know they cannot be forced to participate in the criminal prosecution of their attacker or be compelled to undergo a physical examination. Reporting or not reporting the crime is left up to the victim.
Sexual assault victims are provided with contact information for local rape crisis counseling and other support services. The cards also let them know they have the right to a protective order if they feel there is a continuing threat of harm being done to them and other services to assist them.
Dedicated Lawyers Obtaining Justice for Victims
The attorneys at The Cifarelli Law Firm, LLP, have devoted more than 25 years in the aggressive pursuit of justice and compensation for the victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct. If you are a victim or the parent of a child who has been victimized, contact us now by calling (949) 502-8600 or use the form on our website to schedule a free and confidential consultation with an attorney.