Why is Sexual Assault Under-Reported?

Sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in our country, with 63% of sexual assaults going unreported to the police. This is a prevalent issue because sexual assault affects a vast number of the U.S. population. According to National Statistics, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. With this many victims of sexual assault, but so few reports of the crimes committed against them, it is clear there is something holding them back from reporting. Understanding what this is that makes victims choose not to report is the first step that needs to be taken in order to encourage more to come forward.

Sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in our country, with 63% of sexual assaults going unreported to the police.

Audre Lorde is a black lesbian poet who emphasizes the importance of breaking the silence on pertinent social issues and recognizes that speaking out about these topics often raises fear of retaliation. In her essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”, Lorde states her belief about the reason for people’s silence, writing “In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear – fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation”. Lorde’s argument that silence goes hand in hand with fear can be applied to victims of sexual assault who may share similar fears as well as others. It is these fears that keep them silent, too scared of the repercussions their words will have to report their assault.

Evan Abenstein: Celebrity Cases Can Discourage Ordinary Victims from Reporting

Julia Eckert: Victims Receive Negative Labels and Responses

Khalil Osman: Stigmas Are Holding Back Men From Reporting

Nicole Seay: The Process of a Trial: A Different Kind of Assault

Ashley Yousefi: Colleges Do Not Educate Their Students About Reporting

Additional Resources about Reporting Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is commonplace in today’s media, despite the rate of reporting being substantially low. It is nearly impossible to turn on a TV, open a newspaper, or go on social media today without being faced with a new headline detailing another sexual assault case. People like Brock Turner and Owen Labrie became household names and their trials were followed by the entire nation. Coverage of this year’s election further shined light on the prevalence of the issue in our society. The presidential elect, Donald Trump’s campaign was fraught with allegations of sexual assault against him. The result of the 2016 election alone is one of the biggest signs that sexual assault is a systemic problem in America that is repeatedly ignored and not viewed as being a more serious issue. Trump’s denial of any responsibility for these acts despite numerous and consistent reports of his role as a perpetrator made many citizens conclude that his popularity was directly correlated with condoning sexual assault. One victim expressed that, “Each vote for Trump was a vote for my rapist”.

Sexual assault is a well-known issue among the general population, but despite the high profile cases and news media coverage, there are still major misconceptions that persist. We believe that it’s important to bring to light the fear and stigmatization that come with reporting sexual assault and hope to provide answers as to why it repeatedly goes unreported.