Sexual assault is said to be one of the least reported crimes in the country. Because of the lack of information, statistics for this topic are not always the most accurate. However, there is an estimated 80 to 85 percent of sexual assaults that are not reported. There could be millions of reasons why a victim would not report the crime, but the victim is always left with a traumatic account scarred inside their minds.
All victims of sexual assault experience some kind of change — whether emotional, social, psychological, or sometimes physical. Affects vary, but typical emotions for a victim include “shock; continuing fear of their attacker; terror over the idea of another attack; anxiety or depression; rage at the perpetrator or themselves; and embarrassment, guilt and shame from the belief that the rape was their fault,” says Roger R. Hock, author of the Human Sexuality Psychology textbook.
Numerous phases of anxiety, impact, and recoil often occur. However, there is hope that these will lead to the reconstitution phase where “the stress of the rape is assimilated, told to others, and perhaps counseling and legal steps are taken,” said Hock.
Some people express their emotions more internally whereas others express it more outwardly.
“Some people they just totally shut down, and that’s part of PTSD and Depression,” said Cory Howard, TJC Psychology professor. “A lot of people are worried about how it will affect their reputation,” Howard continues; many people end up seeing themselves as “damaged goods”. Especially for women — they tend to start believing that no one would ever want them and they are no longer capable of being loved.
“They’re going to be worried every time they leave the house or every time they go party, you know? I mean it’s going to affect them. There’s no way it’s not. There’s no way to get around that,” Howard said.
While such agitation develops inside a victim, there are patterned signs of expression that one can notice.
“They will probably start to withdraw a lot from their friends, normal things that they do, just kind of isolate themselves because they probably won’t trust people,” said Britney Monahan, the East Texas Crisis Center’s Coordinator for Sexual Assault Victims. “They just don’t want to be involved in life.”
Grades can suffer, depression can rise, victims can have trouble sleeping, exhaustion, eating too little or too much and unhealthy habits such as drinking and cutting are all signs.
“If someone’s mood is markedly changing for kind of an extended period of time, that’s going to be a big red flag,” said Monahan. “However, then you have the other groups of people that act like nothing is wrong — they act like everything’s normal. And that’s just a ticking time bomb, because at some point, it’s just going to build and build and build and they’re just trying to push it down and it’s going to explode.”
Once a victim does allow someone in (if that occurs at all), the closest friends and family are most likely to be the ones confided in. However, they can also be the ones to remind the victim all the more about their encounter.
“It’s so easy for friends and family to just question them — ask them things like ‘why didn’t you do this? Or why didn’t you do this?’ Well I would’ve fought back’, all these little comments that maybe we don’t feel like are hurtful, but from someone who’s just gone through a trauma, they’re extremely damaging,” said Monahan “they can catastrophize and come up with all these different scenarios that lead to them not reporting.”
Unfortunately, a high percentage of victims do not report. Even though at first assumption, people might expect a victim to tell those closest to them, reasons such as embarrassment can prevent the victim from speaking out.
“A lot of people wouldn’t want to go talk to their mom about that if that happened to them, they definitely wouldn’t want to tell their dad,” said Howard.
Reasons why a victim would not report depend on the situation. Some reasons are that they’re afraid people will view them negatively, fear of judgment from friends or perhaps the attacker was someone the victim knew and they do not want to get them in trouble. Once again statistics vary, but according to Professor Howard, about 90 to 95 percent of the time, the victim will know the attacker.
Despite looking to available resources for help, such as the East Texas Crisis Center or calling hotlines, most victims will not report. Unfortunately, not reporting can add to the stress that victims undergo.
“It seems like that would be a common knowledge that you should, or an easy decision to report, but it’s not,” Howard said.
As a last bit of advice from Professor Howard, “Don’t be alone in it, that would be my advice. Don’t bottle it all up inside — talk to your friends — tell your story.”