According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 70 percent of reported sexual assaults occurred in the residence of the victim, the offender, or the residence of another individual related to the victim or offender. This is a startling statistic. We would be foolish to believe that this statistic doesn’t apply to someone we know, either.
The second startling reality to this statistic is that sexualized violence, and rape in particular, is one of the most under-reported crimes in the United States. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that between 1992 and 2000, only 36 percent or rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assault were reported. That means roughly 70 percent of assaults weren’t reported.
Our Stories Untold recently received a heart-wrenching story that proves both of these statistics are correct. I’ve been in communication with the story’s teller since Our Stories Untold first launched in June. I kept encouraging the survivor to tell her story, because unfortunately I believe that her story is not unique to Mennonite Churches across the nation. Often sexualized violence is covered up by the victim, the family, or the perpetrator, which is what happened in her story.
There obviously isn’t one overall reason why those abused don’t report their assault. Personally, I didn’t report my abuse because I didn’t understand what had happened to me. Much like the statistics listed here, I was abused at the house of a family member by a person staying with my aunt. Being very young, I didn’t fully comprehend what had happened to me. When my abuser later went to prison for committing more atrocious acts of sexualized violence, my parents confronted my brother, sister and I and asked if anything had happened to us. My young mind flashed back to the incident by the barn, but seeing my parents panic made me doubt that my story was worth bringing up — I didn’t want to cause more grief than what was already present. At that young of age I still hadn’t understood that my own story was causing me grief.
One study identified the following as common reasons women don’t report sexualized violence or abuse:
- Self-blame or guilt.
- Shame, embarrassment, or desire to keep the assault a private matter.
- Humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individual’s perceptions.
- Fear of not being believed or of being accused of playing a role in the crime.
- Lack of trust in the criminal justice system.
In general, most families and survivors of assaults believe that rape is a personal and private matter. They fear reprisal from the assailant, and in many cases even when they come forward with their abuse, they aren’t even encouraged to tell their story. It’s far too easy for us to ignore the important truth that our neighbors and friends have stories that go untold. I celebrate and honor this story’s teller for braving the truth and writing out her story so other stories won’t go untold.