Why Most Sexual Assaults Are Not Reported
Sexual violence is more pervasive than most people realize.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 891 Americans are victims of sexual assault daily in 2021.
And yet, the BJS records show only about 21.5% of victims reported these crimes to the police (Table 4). This article seeks to uncover why most sexual assault instances go unreported and where victims of sexual assault can get help.
Reasons for Not Reporting Sexual Assaults
Most sexual assault incidents go unreported for these reasons:
1. Fear of Retaliation
Most sexual assault victims are in a position of diminished influence, so they fear consequences from the perpetrator, such as demotion or denial of promotion at the workplace.
The act dehumanizes and humiliates, so victims do not feel free to report sexual assault.
Despite this, victims should realize it was not their fault. They should recognize that sexual violence is unacceptable and can get proper help if they report it.
3. Unattended Complaints
Some victims will report the crime to a person in authority but are met with indifference. The person will often downplay the issue or discourage the person from taking further action.
4. Not Wanting Their Family or Friends to Know
Some families have created an environment of stigma around sexuality. Family members who aren’t as influential fear being ostracized if they accuse another family member, especially if they are a family figurehead or popular within the family.
5. Feeling the Crime Was Not “Serious Enough”
Some victims may mistakenly decide the incident was not severe enough to warrant reporting to the police.
This typically happens to people who lack the knowledge of what sexual assault or persons in authority coerced them into believing it wasn’t sexual assault. Knowledge of sexual assault can empower them to speak up.
6. Who the Aggressor Is
The relationship between the victim and perpetrator, especially sexual assault on women, usually determines their probability of reporting the incident to the police. For instance, if the offender is:
- Intimate or former intimate partner – 25% likelihood of reporting
- Friend or acquaintance – 18-40% probability
- Stranger – 46-66% chance
7. Men Less Likely to Report a Sexual Assault
Sexual assault on men is the least reported and is highly dependent on the background and education of the victim. Society has created a set of rules, stereotypes, and culture that makes men feel guilt and shame when they become sexual assault victims.
8. Immigration Status
Some victims are hesitant to report due to their immigration status. They fear retaliation or deportation from authority figures. Sexual assault victims who are immigrants should know that they have a right to get help regardless of their immigration status.
What Does WFC’s Sexual Assault Crisis Services (SACS) Program Do?
If you become a victim, know that you are not alone. You have the right to medical attention and decide what’s best for you, including seeking compensation and criminal remedies against the offender.
We will support you in any decision, ensuring you regain the control you thought you lost. Contact us or call our 24-hour toll-free crisis hotlines 1-888-999-5545 (English) and 1-888-568-8332 (En Espanol) to report sexual assault, or WFC’s Direct Hotline: 203-235-4444.