5 Reasons Why Victims Wait To Disclose That They Were Sexually Assaulted
By Shara Kaszovitz, LCSW
Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted; however, not everyone who is assaulted tells someone – be it a friend, family member, or the police. And oftentimes, if they do disclose their experience, it may be days, weeks, months, or even years later.
There are various reasons why someone does not disclose that they have been sexually assaulted. It is helpful to know these reasons so if someone confides in you, you can respond to them with understanding, rather than frustration for not telling you sooner.
Here is a list of some reasons why people don’t immediately, or ever, tell that they have experienced sexual assault.
- Shame: Even though sexual assault is NEVER the fault of the victim, often those who experience it feel as if something is wrong with them for having experienced it. If you are ashamed of something, you are less likely to share it with others.
- Fear: Fear of not being believed, fear of retribution, fear of how others will react to you and treat you, fear of how police will respond, fear of being ostracized, fear of being judged. These are just some of the types of fear that people may feel when thinking about telling someone what they experienced.
- Uncertainty: People who experience sexual assault may not know they have rights. As a result, they are less likely to know what they would be required or not required to do if they disclose that they were a victim. They may not know that they don’t have to report to the police*, or that they don’t have to have a rape kit if they don’t want to. People may also be uncertain if what they experienced is assault. Some people don’t recognize a sexual assault as such until someone else points it out to them.
- Guilt: Sometimes when people experience sexual assault they go over the incident in their head again and again, trying to make sense of what happened to them. Victims may blame themselves, which leads to feelings of guilt. And like shame, when someone believes they are guilty of something, it is difficult to tell others about it.
- Avoidance: It is not uncommon for people who have experienced sexual assault to want to forget it happened and “move on.” They believe they can do this by not thinking or talking about what happened. Additionally, talking and thinking about a traumatic experience can be painful, thus, people may avoid this at all costs.
If someone discloses to you that they were sexually assaulted, please remember all of the above obstacles they may have faced before finding the courage to talk to you. Respond with compassion, care, and belief. Don’t give unsolicited advice; help them make their own decisions on what, if anything, they want to do next.
If you have been sexually assaulted and are considering telling someone, please know it is never too late and you are not alone. Most communities have advocates, therapists, and peer support available to you. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted in the Miami-Dade area, you can call the Sexual Assault Helpline at 305-585-7273, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For other locations, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit RAINN.org.
*Please be aware that reports of sexual assault/abuse against minors and vulnerable adults must be reported to the Florida Abuse Hotline and may require police involvement.