As a prosecutor of sexual assault and child sexual abuse, I know far too well that many survivors of these lurid crimes live with deep pain for decades, or for a lifetime, without telling anyone of the abuse.
Sadly, there are many widely believed myths in society — our jury pools — that promote skepticism and cynicism towards those brave survivors who eventually report sexual abuse.
Here is the bottom line: Lack of a “timely filed” report does not mean the abuse did not happen, and those who do bravely come forward must be supported. This is not a partisan political issue. It is a culture issue.
There are countless reasons why people who are sexually assaulted or abused do not report what happened. Some of them are:
It’s painful. It’s deeply personal. It’s embarrassing. It’s uncomfortable. I won’t be believed. I am ashamed. I feel guilty. I feel betrayed. I feel sick to my stomach. I am afraid. I will be laughed at. I will be punished. No one will understand me. I shouldn’t have been there. I shouldn’t have allowed it to happen. I wasn’t strong enough. I didn’t know how to say no. I froze. I was scared. I must have done something to cause this to happen. I don’t want to be talked about. I look stupid. I will be called a slut. I can’t report it to the police because they are all men. I will be disgraced.
Many survivors decide to live with deep, emotional, scarring pain because it seems much easier to endure than being under a microscope subject to other people’s criticism if they disclose the abuse. Even when reported, not every case of sexual abuse can be prosecuted in the criminal justice system because of the very high burden of proof required under our Constitution.
However, as a society, we have a human obligation to support and assist every brave survivor who comes forward to seek help. If we do not, sexual abuse will continue to pervade our culture. Far too long we have kept sexual abuse in the secret shadows and have not ensured that survivors can feel safe reporting sexual abuse.
Studies show that more than half of all sexual assaults are never reported and only 12 percent of childhood sexual abuse is ever reported.
The question we should all be asking is, “How do we encourage every person who is sexually abused to report it?”
The answer is, “We must Start by Believing.” Until our culture is willing to provide comfort, safety and genuine support for those who are abused, victim survivors will continue to hold the pain inside without seeking help through reporting. This will enable sexual abusers to continue their predatory behavior.
I stand up for survivors of abuse and sexual assault because I know that sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse is extremely underreported and every single person, regardless of age, gender, or socio-economic status, deserves to be supported and treated with dignity and respect. We must come together as Americans and commit to stopping sexual violence wherever it occurs.
This is not a partisan political issue. It is a culture issue. To change our culture, let’s “Start by Believing.”