Why Are Most Sexual Assault Cases Not Reported?
Our attorneys focus on holding institutions responsible for allowing abuse to occur. We typically do not handle matters involving abuse by a personal acquaintance, family member, or other individual outside of an organization.
During the 2021-2022 legislative session, the California Assembly and Senate approved the Sexual Abuse and Cover Up Accountability Act. The Act expands the time for sexual assault survivors to file a civil lawsuit. The prior law limited suits to within ten years of the incident. Under the new law, survivors have until 2026 to file a claim for a sexual assault that occurred after January 1, 2009. The Act further recognizes the prevalence of coverups by organizations, institutions, and companies. Thus, survivors may file a lawsuit against an entity in 2023, regardless of when the assault occurred.
The legislature explained that this new law benefits Californians because more than two out of every three assaults are unreported. This blog will review some statistics and reasons why sexual assault is underreported.
How Many Sexual Assault Cases Are Not Reported?
Survey results show that 63 to 77 percent of sexual assault cases are not reported. For college-age women, the number of unreported assaults is even higher. Whether a person reports a crime often depends on how close the relationship is to the person who assaulted them. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that, on average, between 1992 and 2000:
- 75% of all sexual assaults committed by a current or previous spouse or boyfriend were not reported to police;
- 82% of sexual assaults committed by a friend or acquaintance were not reported; and
- 34% of sexual assaults committed by a stranger were not reported.
This data comes from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). This survey asks a representative sample of U.S. households if they experienced a crime and whether they reported it to law enforcement. For context, NCVS found that 60% of all violent crimes went unreported in 2020.
Reasons for Sexual Assault Not Being Reported
Sexual assault is not reported as often as other violent crimes because of the unique emotional and psychological consequences. Survivors frequently delay reporting for several reasons, many times related to their personal reactions to the assault. The DOJ noted the top three reasons for not reporting as:
- Fear of retaliation or getting the perpetrator in trouble;
- Believing that police would not or could not do anything to help; and
- Thinking the crime is a personal issue or too minor to report.
Sexual assault is a very personal crime, and every person’s reasons for not reporting it are different.
Fear of Retaliation
When an assaulter is an intimate partner or acquaintance, the crime may involve some degree of psychological manipulation. Abusers may threaten violence or leave the relationship if survivors talk to the police. Further, survivors may worry that reporting will cause family problems. In the workplace, the survivor may fear being demoted, denied a promotion, or fired. College students may face rumors or threats by the perpetrator and adverse treatment by school staff and administrators.
Shame and Self-Blame
Surviving sexual assault is an emotional experience. You may blame yourself and feel humiliated and dehumanized. Further, our society tends to victim-blame and engage in harmful discourse around sexual assault. Men and boys face additional struggles because they believe that men should like sex or that a sexual assault impacts their masculinity. Regardless of what you were wearing or what you had to drink, no one ever asks to be sexually assaulted. It is never your fault.
Fear of Not Being Believed
In many cases, a perpetrator is a person in a position of authority, like a boss or professor or religious leader. Survivors may feel that because that person has high social standing, no one will believe their reports. However, statistics show that the instances of false reporting for sexual assault crimes are low, between 2% and 10%. Our attorneys can provide the resources you need to feel secure in reporting sexual assault.
Not Significant Enough to Report or Fear of Lack of Evidence
Perpetrators often try to downplay an assault and act like it’s “no big deal.” However, it’s difficult for a person without legal experience to weigh the evidence and seriousness of a crime. In California, any intentional sexual contact is sexual assault if you do not consent. Further, sexual intercourse is rape if the person used force, violence, or threatened to harm you. While there is often not much evidence of these crimes, your report is evidence. Additionally, you do not know if the perpetrator is facing other allegations or if there were witnesses. Your attorney will help you understand your options.
Boucher LLP: Supporting Sexual Assault Survivors
The fact that most sexual assault cases are not reported shows how challenging it is to come forward and tell your story. Still, many of our clients report finding strength and recovery in speaking out. You never know whether the abuser has hurt more people. Speaking out against a perpetrator and organization can stop the cycle of abuse and coverups. Contact our compassionate, understanding attorneys for survivors of sexual assault to help you start your journey toward justice and closure today.