It’s important to remember that a perpetrator can assault one person but not others in their lives. It doesn’t mean your abuse didn’t happen.
The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center has served thousands of survivors of sexual violence throughout our 40-year history. Calls to our 24-hour Resource Line, already up 20 percent in the last year following #MeToo, have tripled in the last few weeks. The callers vary, but many are women, now in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and even 80s, who have never told anyone their stories of sexual assault.
For too long, survivors have been disbelieved or worse when they come forward.
In truth, there is usually more motivation for a victim not to come forward than to risk doing so.
Asking why someone would delay reporting highlights the inability of our society to truly comprehend the trauma sexual violence inflicts, and how that trauma is perpetuated with the pressure to remain silent.
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Despite indications of progress over the last year toward ending sexual violence, the national conversation of the last few weeks has shown that too many of us still don’t want to know the reality of sexual violence, the depth of the trauma and the pervasiveness of the problem.
Survivors don’t report because we still focus on perpetrators’ strengths and their bright futures. We dismantle victims’ stories and find ways to discredit their worth as a human in order to hold onto the belief that these horrible crimes can’t be true, that people we think we know — especially people of power and influence — can’t possibly be capable of abuse.
People don’t report because we, as a society, are still not truly listening.
We continue to cling to long-refuted myths and beliefs about sexual violence, including false narratives about what a perpetrator looks like, how a survivor “should” behave before or after an assault, and how assault occurs.
As in so many sexual-assault cases, we will likely never know what happened between Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh 36 years ago. However, Dr. Ford’s story, including her decision not to disclose her assault for many years, is consistent with what we have seen in our work with thousands of survivors.
Almost lost in the week of reporting on the Kavanaugh hearing was the sentencing of Bill Cosby for sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. In this case, almost 60 women had to come forward to report their own assault before people began to believe he was capable of sexual assault.
To survivors who’ve called KCSARC, and to those yet to pick up the phone: It’s important to remember that a perpetrator can assault one person but not others in their lives. It doesn’t mean your abuse didn’t happen.
Your decision not to report to someone, whether law enforcement or any other person, doesn’t mean you didn’t experience assault.
For those whose report does not lead to an arrest, a prosecution or a conviction, those failures of our criminal-justice system do not mean a crime didn’t happen.
To all survivors of sexual assault: We hear you. We stand with you. We support you.