Many people, when they hear the words “sexual assault”, experience feelings of discomfort. A traumatic experience for any human being, one third to two thirds of survivors who open up about their assault are then re-victimized, which may come in the form of negative reactions such as disbelief, shaming and blaming the victim, ultimately causing physical and psychological effects on the survivor which can last a lifetime (Ullman, 2010). Any form of coerced or forced sexual behavior or contact that is perpetrated against a person without consent, is considered to be sexual assault, which can include but is not limited to rape and attempted rape, child molestation, sexual harassment or threats and unwanted touching (Department of Health & Human Services).
Sadly, sexual assault is among the crimes which are least likely to be reported to the police. The 1999 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization found that 78% of sexual assaults were not reported to the police and in addition to this, incidents of sexual assault that are reported, are not always reported immediately after the offence has taken place and in fact, are often reported long after the incident has occurred, which can create difficulties with laying charges and obtaining a conviction (Government of Canada, Department of Justice).
There are many reasons victims do not report sexual assault to the police, which can include fear of revenge by the perpetrator, avoidance of publicity and a belief that the police would not or could not help them. Some victims decide to deal with the assault in a different manner and others do not feel that the assault is important enough to go forward, while some survivors feel the matter is too personal (Government of Canada, Department of Justice). They also may blame themselves and fear that others will too. Either way, it is the survivor’s decision and it needs to be respected. No woman should be asked what she was wearing when she was sexually assaulted and no person should question a victim on whether they are telling the truth or why they did not go forward sooner. Survivors must know that they are believed and that the assault was not their fault, no matter what! With this is mind, you can make a difference in the life of someone who has been sexually traumatized and survivors can begin to feel valued as human beings, instead of labeled as “damaged goods” and left feeling less than the rest of society. Change starts with you!
Ullman, S. E. (2010). Talking About Sexual Assault: Societies Response to Survivors.
Department of Health & Human Services. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our- publications/fact-sheet/sexual-assault.html
Government of Canada, Department of Justice. http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/csj-sjc/ccs-ajc/rr06_vic2/p3_4.html