Why would someone who experienced sexual assault wait years to come forward?

Research shows the answer is complicated.

The public may not realize just how many victims of any crime blame themselves for their own victimization. Self-blame is one of the most toxic forms of emotional abuse. It amplifies our perceived inadequacies, whether real or imagined, and paralyzes us before we can even begin to move forward. Seemingly innocent questions from family and friends can trigger self-doubt and prevent victims from reporting to police. They may also question what they did wrong and believe it was their fault.

Sexual harassment and assault can be a humiliating experience to recount privately, let alone publicly. Victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault in adulthood or sexual abuse in childhood tend to feel shame, because as human beings, we want to believe that we have control over what happens to us. When that personal power is challenged by a victimization of any kind, we feel humiliated.

Another reason women don’t go to the police is that they fear of the repercussions when it comes to reporting sexual harassment or assault — fear of losing their job, fear they won’t find another job, fear they will be passed over for a promotion, fear of losing their credibility, fear of being branded a troublemaker, fear of being blackballed in their industry, fear of their physical safety, etc.  The fact that sexual misconduct is the most under-reported crime is due to a common belief that women make up these stories for attention or to get back at a man who rejected them. Victims’ accounts are often scrutinized to the point of exhaustion.

Also women feel it is useless to come forward, because they have seen the way others have been treated. They feel it is hopeless, because they won’t be believed, and their reputations will be tainted, if not ruined. Women who have already been sexually assaulted or harassed feel especially helpless, since the chances are extremely high that they did not receive the justice they so desperately needed.

To all the men out there focusing so much energy on trying to figure out why victims don’t report, it would be far more productive to ask, “Why do we allow men to continue to sexually harass and assault women?”

We will discuss this more in my book, “Relationship Impossible”  expected released May 28th.

( Credit: Psychology Today)