What Happened When I Reported
Sexual assault dominates our local and national news. As we read about Bill Cosby’s sentencing, we watch America ridicule and demean Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers. Many of you keep asking, “If this actually happened, why didn’t they report it?” You think their accusations are lies because they chose to not do what you think you would do if somebody sexually assaulted you.
There are many reasons why a survivor may chose to not report. We talk about some of these reasons in Schools & Criminal Justice on our LEARN page. Also, Jill Richardson wrote a phenomenal article that gives a list of reasons and explanations.
However, I will share my reporting experiences with all of you...hopefully it will help you understand why most survivors do not report.
THEY TRIED TO BLAME ME
The day that I reported, I went from one place to another...telling strangers about my sexual assault over and over again as I made decision after decision. Awake since the attack, I ran on adrenaline, the presence of my family, and a faint faith in God, trying to stay calm as police officers, medical professionals, and university employees asked question after question:
“What were you wearing?”
Elmo panties, Charlie Brown pants, and a university t-shirt.
“Did you drink or do drugs that night?”
While some people tried to help me, others tried to find a way to blame me for my perpetrator's actions, questioning me like a despicable villain instead of a victim they cared for and empathized with. What if I wore a minidress instead of my silly pajamas? What if I partied with friends instead of going to a student leadership event? There is nothing anyone can do to deserve a sexual assault. It is not a consequence, bad luck, or a misunderstanding. Sexual assault is a hurtful, humiliating, and disgusting sin that perpetrators commit against innocent bystanders. It is wrong and unwarranted; but, because the justice system rarely sees it that way, many survivors do not report their attacks.
THEY DID NOT BELIEVE ME
Along with asking me what I wore and did that night, officers and prosecutors asked me to graphically explain what my perpetrator did. How familiar are you with the different parts of your genital area, and how comfortable are you with talking to strangers about how somebody violated it? Traumatized, I could only give them so many details about my sexual assault; and, that provoked an attitude that mimicked what non-reporting survivors face:
"If this actually happened, why won't you tell us everything?"
Because, I can't.
I couldn't until months of therapy later, when my case went to trial and I testified in court.
THEY TRIED TO MINIMIZE MY EXPERIENCE
During the criminal trial, as it became more and more apparent that I was "probably" telling the truth, the judge and defense attorney downplayed what my perpetrator did:
"He was drunk!"
"He didn't mean to!"
"He was only 18!"
"We can't let one mistake ruin his future!"
Laughing about the color of my perpetrator's drink, the judge found him not guilty...like judges and juries do with most perpetrators of sexual assault. Instead, he simply made my perpetrator apologize to me.
He treated my sexual assault like a funny accident instead of a life-altering attack.
Now, despite everything I went through by reporting my sexual assault, I am grateful that I did. Doing so gave me the opportunity to stand up for myself; and, even though the process caused wounds, it healed wounds, too. Reporting is a beautiful right, and I encourage other survivors to report if they want to.
However, because of how painful the process is, I understand why most survivors chose not to report.
After reading about my experiences, I hope that you understand, too.