Reporting Sexual Assault Is Important Even Though It's Hard

Reporting Sexual Assault Is Important Even Though It's Hard

How can we encourage others to come forward?
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It’s common for sexual assault victims to question whether or not they should contact law enforcement and report their assault. While many believe that a victim should report their assault right away, and may even be frustrated by a victim’s hesitancy to do so, there are many reasons why a sexual assault victim may not immediately report the crime.

Four years ago, when I was 17, I was sexually assaulted by my best friend's (at the time) dad. My situation was tricky because he was able to have contact with me whenever I was over at my friend's house, especially for sleepovers. He was 30 years older than me, with a wife and two other daughters. He formed an inappropriate relationship through text at first, then email, then in person.

He saw me a lot, considering all three of his daughters ran track with me in high school. I still blame myself for letting it happen, but I didn't know what to do at the time. I couldn't tell anybody – not my parents, my close friends, my coach, or even my best friend. I didn't want to mess anything up. He convinced me that what we had was "normal," and that "age is just a number."

I'd lie to my parents about where I was everyday. I was either with my group of friends or in his car – pretending everything was normal. After he expressed that he loved me, and would wait for me, I had to tell someone.

Fortunately, I was able to tell my coach, who then told me what to do from there. I felt ashamed... uncomfortable... and guilty of ruining his life for him, and telling someone about it.

So, how do we encourage others to report their sexual assaults?

Despite the fact that reporting sexual assaults/abuse and the subsequent civil or criminal process is an intimidating and frightening experience, there are things you can do to inspire survivors to come forward. Encouraging phrases and words can relieve fears of judgment and show support for the victim. Consider phrases like:

  • "It’s not your fault." Remind the person that s/he is not to blame for what happened.
  • "I’m sorry this happened to you." Show sympathy by acknowledging that the experience has affected the person's life.
  • "You aren’t alone." Show the victim that you’re there for them and are willing to listen to their situation.
  • "I believe you." It’s extremely challenging for the individual to come forth and share their experience. Therefore, your job is to support them and remove all the doubts.

Sexual assault takes a big physical and emotional toll on a victim, who may still be processing what happened and may not be totally ready to handle retelling their story. I know I wasn't at first, but of course, being a junior in high school, I also had other distractions to try to help cope with it.

All I know is, I wish I told someone sooner.

#YoungerThanYouThink #BreakTheCycle

Cover Image Credit: Candace Jones

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A Letter To My Best Friend On Valentine's Day

Because you are my ultimate Valentine.
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To my beautiful best friend,

Warning: This letter is about to get extremely cheesy. I am talking four cheese lasagna cheesy. But no one deserves a love letter like this more than you do.

This Valentine’s Day, I want to express my love for you. On this wondrous occasion with which most people express their love to their significant other, I want to tell you, my best friend, how much I cherish our friendship.

SEE ALSO: A Valentine's Day Love Letter To My Girl Best Friends

You are the ultimate love of my life. Boys have come and gone but you remain a constant; for that I am grateful. You have been there for me when my family could not be; for that I am grateful. You have been my backbone, my rock, and all those other clichés people use to describe the people they care about, and yet you have been so much more than that as well; for that I am grateful.

All my love this Valentine’s Day goes out to you, my friend, because you do not receive it enough. You have picked me up out of the dirt, brushed me off, and kissed my wounds more times than I can count, and I will never be able to thank you enough for that, but I am sure am going to try.

Thank you for the midnight cries. Thank you for the midnight laughs. Thank you for ordering way too much food with me and still just eating it all. Thank you for the advice, both solicited and unsolicited. Thank you for telling me what I need to hear, even when it isn’t what I want to hear. Thank you for the silly pictures. Thank you for the stupid inside jokes. Thank you for making bad decisions with me. Thank you for laughing with me and laughing at me. Thank you for the endless memories.

SEE ALSO: An Open Letter to the Best Friend I've Ever Had

More than anything, I want you to know that I love you. I love you. You are the family I get to choose, the one I go to when I have nowhere else to turn. You are the one I know I can always run to, whether we saw each other yesterday or haven’t seen each other in a year. You have played a part in molding who I am as a person, and I am so grateful for having such an amazing person affecting my life in such a positive way.

With all the love in my heart,

Your friend
Cover Image Credit: https://www.facebook.com/natalie.pederson.5/photos

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Blood Doesn't Determine Family

Blended families are just as much of a family as a traditional one.

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If you look above, you can see that have a very large family on my mother's side. Between my grandparents, aunts and uncle, cousins and my own immediate family, we're at thirty-three members and counting. All branches of our family tree have busy lives, so we don't get to see each other as much as often as we would hope to. Christmas is the one time a year where we all finally get together for the evening. If you sat in on our holiday party, you may think that we have a couple screws loose, but there is no doubt that you would be able to feel the love radiating from room to room.

If you look at the picture I chose for my header, you can see all of the cousins gathered for our yearly picture. Dysfunctional, of course, but you can tell that love is there. Would it surprise you that out of our entire huge family, less than half of us are blood-related?

I come from a blended family, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Blood does not determine family to us. Love does.

Divorce can be a messy thing, especially when children are involved. Both my aunt and uncle had remarried into relationships that already had children. For the most part, none of us can really ever remember a time when we weren't considered family. We don't ever look at each other as not being related. We never will. Family to us is the love and support that is shared unconditionally between us.

As I said, you would never be able to tell we weren't blood-related unless I told you. Not only do we all look similar to one another (which again is odd, because if the marriages had never taken place, we would just have a ton of doppelgangers running around), but the love and passion that we radiate is unmistakable that we have a bond that will never be broken, let alone determined by biology.

Blended families tend to get a bad rap sometimes from some of the horror stories that can come from second marriages. Not only that, but some people still are stuck in the idea that the only socially acceptable type of family is one where the lineage is clear and concise. Although I can see where these people come from, I don't believe that because there is a lack of shared genetics between all of us, our love is any less strong.

Family is those who will answer a call or text late at night because you need someone to talk to. They're the ones that you end up staying at their house and talking for hours when you meant to make a quick trip in. They are there for you no matter the situation and always believe in you one hundred percent.

Traditional families have a lot of love too, undoubtedly. But please, do not tell me that my family is any less of a family of a family because of its makeup. We have just as much love between us as families with the same bloodline. Blood does not determine the amount of love and affection between all of us. It never will. We will love each other as much as a traditional family. We never look at each other as a mixed family, so please stop treating us as such.

I've said it so many times, but I'll remind you once more. Blood does not determine family, love does-- and I love my family more than life itself.

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