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.