Last week, the Washington Post reported allegations that Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted underage teens during his early years as a district attorney.
I do not seek to turn the pages of our local paper into a forum on national politics, but I have seen a disconcerting narrative coming out of the discussion blaming the victims for not coming forward sooner.
What message does that send to young women who have been sexually assaulted by a teacher or coach? It certainly doesn’t encourage them to come forward.
I’ve covered my fair share of domestic violence and sexual assault cases. One of the major themes that seems to emerge from the public is a baseless claim that women come forward to shame their partners. One of the prevalent responses is, “Why didn’t they say something sooner?” and in the same breath, people question their motives.
Other times I hear from the public that the crime would have been prevented if the women “just said something earlier.”
Perhaps they feared for their safety or their children. Maybe they feared for their reputation.
Their fear in reporting the crime is used against them when they finally have the fortitude to stand up to their assailants.
When women come forward to report sexual assaults, more often than not, people (usually men) seek to discredit their allegations. Often, we end up knowing more about the victim of a crime than the person who committed it.
Is it no wonder that victims wait decades to come forward?
According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, the nation’s largest sexual violence prevention coalition, someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds.
Further, out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will never serve a prison sentence. Most concerning, however, is the number of sexual assaults that are never reported to police.
According to RAINN, 310 out of 1,000 rapes are reported to authorities. Of those, 57 will lead to an arrest, 11 of which are referred to prosecutors. Seven lead to felony convictions and six rapists will be incarcerated.
Compare that to robberies: 619 are reported to police with 167 arrests being made.
But we don’t need to view statistics to see there is a real problem with this heinous crime being reported.
Talk to your female friends. One out of three will tell you they’ve been sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.
When a rape victim at the University of Wyoming came forward a few years ago, the comment threads on the papers covering the case were abhorrent.
She was just doing it for attention.
She had an agenda against the university.
Why did she wait months to come forward?
Too many friends have been the victims of sexual assault. Some were brave enough to report it, but they were questioned as if they did something wrong. They were often asked how inebriated they were and if they were sure they didn’t consent to the act.
They were shamed.
We would never make similar accusations toward a robbery victim.
So why do we do that with women who report being sexually assaulted?
When we do that, young women hear a message that tells them if they choose to come forward, their motives will be questioned and their peers may even question the legitimacy of their allegations.
They might decide it’s easier to let it go than have their names dragged through the mud.
And another rapist will walk free.