Should rape/sexual assault victims report?

I’ve been pondering this for months now. The answer may seem simple–“Of course! If someone is raped, she should report it!” But consider the following:

  • Only a small percentage of rapists are arrested. Only a tiny percentage of those go to jail.

• Reporting often involves rape kit testing and reliving the experience, either of which is often traumatic.

• How many times have we heard, “It’s he said/she said” when someone famous has been accused of rape/sexual assault? Since very few rapes involve witnesses (and even fewer involve unbiased ones), most rape cases are in fact he said/she said. This is one reason for the low arrest and conviction rates.

• It’s very difficult to get evidence that’s regarded as persuasive. Semen present in the vagina? Consensual sex. Victim was too terrified to resist and there are no injuries? Consensual. Victim is bruised/injured? She likes it rough. Or she att

• In the small percentage of cases in which there is an arrest and trial, the defense attorney is going to portray the victim as a slut. The defense may not be allowed to introduce the victim’s sexual history, but the rapist is most likely going to claim sex was consensual, even if the rapist was a stranger to the victim. Cross-examination on the witness stand is a brutal experience.

• If the rapist is popular–everyone’s favorite neighbor or captain of the football team–the victim will most likely be reviled.

• If the rapist finds out the victim reported the rape, there may be reprisal–physical violence or something more subtle.

There are, of course, good reasons for reporting a rape/sexual assault. There’s the small chance the rapist will actually go to jail. Reporting can in some cases give the victim a sense of control over her/his life. And, of course, there’s the notion that reporting a crime is the right thing to do, regardless of the cost to the already-traumatized victim.

When you weigh the costs vs. benefits of reporting, is it in the victim’s best interest to report?

Or have it reported for them, if the victim is a child or dependent adult?

That “popular” suspect might be revealed to have done the same thing before, often many, many times.

If a victim was seriously injured in the attack, it’s awfully hard to hide what was done, but if s/he wasn’t, that’s when the s/he said / s/he said thing comes into account, and if a victim chooses not to report, that’s a decision for which s/he should not be condemned. It gets trickier if the victim cannot speak for themselves.

I’m for reporting, always. As we’ve been seeing repeatedly, there’s pretty much no such thing as a one-time offender when it comes to sexual assault. More reports will lead to more convictions because you get more victims coming forward, and when it’s multiple “she saids” the “he said” defense shrivels, as do the victim-blaming counter-arguments.

I think there might be a callous-but-true situation such that there is a “just-right” number of reports, large enough to drive improvement in the system and at the same time small enough to prevent excessive backlash from deniers.

Are previous accusations of rape/sexual assault admissible in court? I was under the impression they weren’t, especially if the previous case didn’t go to trial, as the vast majority don’t. In fact, even if the perpetrator is arrested, if he wasn’t convicted, he can, after a period of time with no new convictions, get his record expunged. At least, in my state, he can. That would mean prior accusations would, in effect, disappear, right?

I think it should be reported.

Of fucking course they should.

The previous accusations aren’t admissable, but it will help with individual accusations being ignored. The police won’t want to be on record as dismissing a recent report when the media shows up saying the assailant has been accused previously.

It also helps outside of court, as in real life the same rule applies - there’s never just one victim. The two times I’ve seen someone fired for sexual harassment, the first complaint got HR to ask around and they discovered multiple prior bad acts. I wish someone could get fired after the first incident.*

*Okay, I know of someone that was fired after the first report, but he was weird. He had a foot fetish and he grabbed a woman’s shoe off her foot and starting sniffing it in the elevator. To say she was mildly freaked is like saying Hitler was kinda bad (and they had him on video).

None of your objections matter one whit. If you don’t report it, it didn’t happen. You have been a victim of a crime. Get it reported. Get it on record. Suffer the indignities. Testify in court. And gain closure when the rapist is convicted.

I notice you’re assuming a female victim: if you think women have it bad, consider a male victim.

Nine posts to get to “what about the menz”. Can we not do this?

This phrase is all over pop culture - she likes it rough. It gives me the creeps.

I have considered what it would be like to be a male victim. You should have noticed that I included that possibility a couple of times in my post. However, the vast majority of victims are women, so I didn’t feel obliged to use he/she or add (men) at every possible juncture. Nor would I assume, as you do, that it’s necessarily worse for any given male victim. If you’d like to start such a debate, I hope you’ll initiate it in a separate thread.

Yes, things are often bad for women who report. That needs to change. And it can’t change unless more victims do report. I wish that there were an easy way to get to there from here, but unfortunately there isn’t. Fortunately, though, we’re already seeing the start of the movement that will get there.

Failure to report may give the perpetrator free rein to keep raping/assaulting more people. If enough people report, however, maybe it will change the culture so that reports are taken more seriously, potential rapists are less likely to think they can act with impunity, and the arguments against reporting that you listed would have less weight.

In the grand scheme of things, I think victims “should” report. But, for the reasons you list, there’s a very real risk that those who do would lose more than they gain. So I hesitate to advise anyone that they must do so, or to pass judgment on those who don’t.

Thank you. I’m glad I posted the question because I’ve learned that those who haven’t been raped/sexually assaulted may have little idea of what happens when you do report. As one victim whose rapist was acquitted put it:

To report the rape/assault is to relive it. It’s hell to go through an assault the first time; it doesn’t get a lot easier in recounting it. My case was, I think, fairly typical: telling my parents was so hard, I only did it when I had no choice, and then I gave a very brief summary. The police naturally needed every detail. I relived the entire terrifying experience, this time with freeze-frames. And if the rapist/sexual assailant is identified and questioned, things get much, much worse.

The moment the perp* starts talking to police, you, the victim, become suspect. He says sex was consensual. He says you felt guilty afterwards. He says you’re a vindictive whore. This is the he says part of he says/she says. The necessity of considering that account as the truth makes further questioning harsher. Furthermore, the perpetrator seldom primly seals his lips; he tells everyone his version, preemptively. Now you’ve gone through the horror and terror of assault AND you’re blamed for the very act that terrified you AND you’re branded a liar and worse.

And many victims are blamed, subtly or boldly, by others. One of the very few persons I confided in years after the assault said I must have acted nervous, so the assailant saw me as prey.

We’re urged to report to help other victims of the same perpetrator. In sexual harassment cases, where a pattern of behavior must be established, prior reports are helpful. But this is not sexual harassment. Prior accusations won’t be heard at trial. And unless the perp is famous, media coverage is unlikely, so there’s little chance that report will embolden other victims.

[Cite.]

*Since 91% of sexual assault victims are female, I’ve chosen to avoid the repeated use of *he/she. *.

I made post #2 in this thread, and it was gender-neutral for a reason.

This seems a similar dilemma to whether gay people “should” come out. There is great personal risk (in many cases) but the overall benefit to our culture and gay people in general is obvious.

“Should” report is not what I would want to convey to rape victims. I’d rather talk about the benefits of reporting. A rape victim has to think about all of these downsides:

Not being believed
Police and/or others not caring
Being asked if she really wants to “destroy a man’s life”
Being asked questions no other crime victim gets asked
Minimizing what she went through
Possible threats from rapist or his friends
Possible retaliation from rapist or his friends
And more

How do you convince someone to run that kind of gauntlet?

Not getting too specific, but non-judicial consequences would do more to hasten reform.

The problem is that “non-judicial consequences” tends to mean a vigilante beating or killing of the alleged perpetrator. Those don’t tend to happen to the Brock Turner’s and Brett Kavanaugh’s of the world, attacking rich white guys tends to be a really bad move. Instead, it tends to happen to poor people, especially minorities, and the allegations are often based on weak testimony. While the treatment of rape victims is terrible and needs to improve, beating up poor people (with a focus on minorities) with no oversight really isn’t a good answer. And in a lot of cases ‘non-judicial consequences’ are wildly disproportionate to the crime, inflicting death or crippling injury for a crime that would actually only warrant a fairly short jail stay if proven. I don’t really think that a death sentence is the appropriate answer when two high school kids, one 18 year old and one 15, have sex.

Brock Turner wasn’t famous until his trial. Media coverage is variable, and may be unlikely for the first trial, but the media might be interested when Mr. Not-Guilty is accused again, and yet again. Exposing such men can lead to some sort of justice, even if there’s no conviction.

The bottom line is doing nothing is how we got here, and it’s not how we’re going to change things. It feed into the same victim-blaming narrative: “She didn’t report me - what I did wasn’t that bad/she liked it/she’s changed her mind/etc.”