A year into the current era of #MeToo and we’re still having this conversation: Survivors of rape and sexual assault are again explaining why they didn’t report these acts of violence right after they happened.
The reasons are many: Shame. Confusion. Denial. Fear. Intimidation and lack of power. Concern that no one would believe them, that nothing would be done, or that the victims themselves would be blamed. Most survivors of sexual assault do not report such incidents to authorities right away. A 2015 survey from The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 12 percent of female college students who experienced an assault or attempted assault reported it.
On Friday, the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport went viral, with Twitter users explaining why they didn’t report an assault they experienced. The stories streamed out after President Trump’s tweet questioning why Christine Blasey Ford, now a 51-year-old research psychologist in Northern California, did not immediately report the alleged attack she recently said occurred at a high school party in the 1980s. Ford says that a drunk, teenage Brett M. Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, leaving her fearful that he “might inadvertently kill her,” while Kavanaugh has said that the accusations are “completely false.”
Trump’s tweet read: “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”
Ford has not indicated that she filed charges. She told a Post reporter recently that she recalled thinking, at the time of the party: “I’m not ever telling anyone this. This is nothing, it didn’t happen, and he didn’t rape me.” But the effects lingered: In 2012, Ford described the event in couples therapy with her husband; portions of the therapist’s notes have been reviewed by The Washington Post.
Within a few hours of Trump’s tweet, victims of rape and sexual assault explained just how hard it is to come forward about such incidents right after they happen — and how difficult it can be to prosecute afterward. Trump’s tweet was slammed for being tone-deaf and ignorant of the obstacles facing survivors in coming forward about such incidents, immediately or even decades after the fact. Using the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport, survivors shared their stories. Here are a few of them, beginning with a colleague of mine:
Men told their stories as well as women. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, one in 10 rape victims is male.
Some described how they did report their assaults, but that’s only the first step. Following up by pressing charges can entail lengthy legal fights and cause further trauma.
Celebrities contributed stories of why they didn’t report assaults, including Alyssa Milano in an essay for Vox. “Victims of sexual assault often don’t report what happened because they know all too well that our stories are rarely taken seriously or believed — and that when it comes to sexual misconduct, our justice system is broken,” she wrote. Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd used the hashtag as well:
Amid the stories of lack of action, there were a rare few like this one, where, fortuitously, justice was served.
This post has been updated.