Myths have been floating around for decades about how often sexual assaults actually occur and how often false reporting of sexual assault occurs. One common myth is that false reporting occurs frequently. A few well-publicized stories of false reporting can lead the public to believe that false reporting is very common, when it is rare.
Three different large-scale studies found that false reporting of sexual assaults occurs in between two and ten percent of cases. Underreporting of sexual assaults is actually much more common than false reporting. It’s been estimated that about 63 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police. When victims do have the courage to come forward, they can be made to feel that they are lying.
There are a number of reasons that many sexual assault victims do not come forward. They may still be involved in a relationship with the perpetrator, and may not wish for the individual to face criminal charges. The perpetrator may be a family member, and they may worry about the repercussions if they speak up. They often struggle to remember details of the assault, and when they try to remember the emotions may be overwhelming, so they can choose to block it out and leave it in the past. They may fear that their family or friends may be negatively affected.
If they do come forward, the reporting process is often so painful that the victims may change their minds and withdraw their allegations. Completing a rape kit can be a terrible experience for victims. During the investigation, investigators typically ask a lot of very personal questions and collect evidence from the victim, which can be humiliating. Some police forces have had the proper training and have procedures in place to handle these investigations delicately and with sensitivity, but some have not.
Although the prevalence of false reporting of sexual assaults is a myth, some law enforcement agencies do not receive the proper training to know that the vast majority of sexual assaults which are alleged did occur. Law enforcement officials may also not be aware of what typical behavior is for a sexual assault victim – without that training, the behavior could seem as untrue or inconsistent. It’s common for victims of sexual assaults to delay their reporting, to be indifferent to their injuries, to be very vague in the details of the assault, or to attempt to steer police away from any details with which they are uncomfortable.
The stereotypes of false reporting are one reason many victims do not come forward to get the justice they deserve. Victims may be afraid they will not be believed, because they have heard that so many reported sexual assaults did not occur.
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, it is critical that you come forward, for a number of reasons. First, seeing the perpetrator criminally punished for his or her actions can go a long way towards helping the victim heal. Pursuing criminal charges can also help make sure the perpetrator does not hurt anyone else.
In addition to criminal charges, in some cases the victim should consider bringing a civil lawsuit. There may be another party that can be held responsible for the damages done by the sexual predator, such as a school, church, or another employer. In rare cases, the predator may have sufficient assets to justify pursuing an action against him or her directly.
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, do not stay silent like most victims. If you are in the Oakland-San Francisco area, call Oakland-San Francisco sexual abuse victim attorney Micha Star Liberty at 510-645-1000. She has experience in helping victims of sexual assault, and can help you as well. Call today to learn more or to schedule a free consultation on your case.