It is time to start believing sexual assault victims

District Attorney Dan Dow

OPINION by DAN DOW

There are countless reasons why people who are sexually assaulted or abused do not report what happened. 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.

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.

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