Episode 122: "Why do people wait to report sexual assault?"Support the show
On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about why people wait to report sexual assault.
This is Jessica Skultety, Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services at no charge to survivors for over 40 years.
Today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, Why do people wait to report sexual assault?”
This is a complicated question that we get from teens and adults. Some survivors of sexual assault do not feel comfortable or ready to report right away, after the incident or incidents happened. This could be for many reasons, which we will talk about today. It’s important to know that there are some people who never report, too.
First, sexual assault is often a traumatizing event. This means that it is something beyond the scope of what the human brain is meant to be able to handle. Trauma can affect people in many ways: they might develop symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD; they might have trouble leading their daily life because of reminders of the incident; and/or they might push the incident away until it comes back at a different time in their life. Some people who experience sexual assault actually block out the memory or don’t have the language to describe what happened to them (especially if they were young), so they remember the event later on.
Some teens might not report because they are afraid of what will happen to themselves or to the person who assaulted them. Adults need to report to authorities when they suspect or have knowledge of a minor or an elder being abused or neglected from someone in a caregiving role. Although adults might have some limits to their confidentiality, laws are in place with the goal of keeping someone safe, and adults can connect the young person and their families to supportive services.
Here are some more reasons people don’t report sexual assault. They might think people won’t believe them. They might be scared of other people’s reactions or ashamed that they experienced this. They might be afraid of getting law enforcement or the legal system involved, and they may have had past experiences there that didn’t go well. Or, they love the person who assaulted them, or they don’t want retaliation or guilt if that person is punished or imprisoned. They might feel guilty and think they played a part in causing the violence. We want to be very clear here and say, it is never the survivor’s fault!
Some people don’t know who to report to. You can report to law enforcement if you want to bring charges against the other person. Adult survivors also have the option in New Jersey to get type of restraining order. Reporting could also mean coming forward publicly to family, friends, or social media, to talk about what happened. Some people find healing in that experience. This decision to come forward and talk about sexual assault is different for every survivor. Remember at this point, anyone can also call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset helpline at 866-685-1122 to learn more about and access our crisis services after an assault.
Some people don’t report because they think it’s been too long. There are so many different considerations that go into whether or not a sex crime can be brought to court. It’s helpful to talk to someone like a lawyer about the current statute of limitations. You can also call or text our helpline to speak confidentially with a legal advocate about your options.
It's also important to realize that many people DO report sexual assault, even if they worry about some of the things we talked about today.
Whether or not someone decides to report to police, and no matter how long it’s been since the assault, you can access free services anytime from Safe+Sound Somerset in Somerset County, NJ (and many other places around the world). You don’t even have to report.
In New Jersey, a victim 13 years and older can activate the Sexual Assault Response Team up to 5 days after a sexual assault. If you are 13 years or older, you do not need parental permission for this. We offer supportive listening and safety planning on our helpline, counseling, legal advocacy, and more, no matter how long it has been since the sexual assault occurred. You matter.
To speak with an expert about relationship or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning.
Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit our website at www.safe-sound.org/ask-ava. Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.