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Why survivors don't report sexual assault

Posted at 8:24 AM, Sep 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-28 21:56:09-04

Its the same question over and over: Why didn't the victim come forward sooner?

The reality is, many victims of sexual assault wait years to tell their story if they do at all.

Experts estimate only 15 to 35 percent of survivors report their abuse. They say it's not uncommon for them to stay silent for years, if not forever.

"People that don't report are more in the norm than people that do," Rachel Swedburg said.

Swedburg is a Sexual Assualt Advocacy Coordinator at End Violent Enocounters or EVE in Lansing. She said that fear is often the main reason survivors don't come forward. They're afraid no one will believe them, retaliation, or they don't want their friends or family to know.

"Usually the reason that people choose come forward is that they've reached the point in their life that they can safely do so. And a lot of people aren't at that place and that's something that we should respect," she said.

Experts say that two to eight percent of sexual assault allegations are recanted, which is the same as other crimes. So why are people so quick to call victims of sexual abuse liars? Swedburg says it's because it's usually the victim's words against their attacker. Swedburg also says people just dont want to believe that type of evil exists.

"Its a lot easier to say that someone is a liar than to say that something like this could happen to you. It's really a defense mechanism," she said.

EVE's executive director says having conversations about a tough topic like sexual assault can help others come forward.

"This is one of those hard issues that does not have an easy solution. And so by people thinking about how do we solve these issues and starting to talk about it, it makes the climate better for survivors to come tell their truth," Brigitte Gurden said.

Whether its 20 minutes or 20 years, experts say it's important to believe those who come forward and be empathetic.

"If you are talking to someone that is a survivor and you may not even know and you're coming down on these issues hard, you may be part of the reason that they choose to not speak further," Swedburg added.

Experts say that perpetrators are sentenced to prison in less than 10 percent of cases, which is another reason some don't come forward.

If you are a victim of sexual assault there are several resources available:

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

End Violent Encounters: (517) 372-5572