Common Barriers to Reporting Sexual Assaults
The following are some common reasons why sexual assault survivors feel reluctant to report incidents. Speaking to someone you trust—a friend, therapist, or legal counsel—may be a good first step when considering your options.
Knowing the perpetrator: Knowing the person who assaulted you can make reporting the crime difficult. This may be because the perpetrator is a relative, knows your family or friends, or is someone you are still in a relationship with. Knowing your aggressor can cause conflicting emotions, such as fear and loyalty.
Fear of being disbelieved: Many survivors decide not to report their assault because they do not think they will be believed. The reasons for this fear are closely tied to issues of slut shaming, survivor blaming, and the ways rape culture creates doubt about stories of assault.
Fear of police or medical personnel: Some communities have a long-standing distrust of authority figures such as police and medical personnel. This can make survivors of sexual assault reluctant to turn to such figures for help.
Fear of prejudice and discrimination: Someone who is sexually assaulted may think an officer, hotline worker, doctor, or attorney will judge them because of their sexuality, gender, race, class, or any other identity or that their identity will be used to blame them for the assault.
Assumption of heterosexuality: People assisting a survivor of sexual assault may assume that the person is heterosexual or was assaulted by a person of the opposite sex. A survivor may feel uncomfortable correcting that assumption, or disclosing aspects of their identity, such as sexual identity or orientation.
Fear of being outed: An LGBTQIA survivor of sexual assault may be concerned that reporting will reveal previously undisclosed personal information (such as sexual orientation or identity) to friends, family, or community.
Fear of emasculation: Sexual assault is most often portrayed as a crime committed by men against women. However, sexual assault can be perpetrated by anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality.
Betrayal of community: Survivors of sexual assault may worry that in reporting the crime, a stigma of sexual violence will be attached to their community (e.g. if you belong to a community that is already stigmatized and marginalized, and the assailant does as well, there may be ambivalence about reporting, or fear that your community will suffer further stigmatization as a result).