According to RAINN, nearly 500,000 Americans suffer some form of sexual assault each year. Meanwhile, an NPR survey found that approximately 80 percent of women said they had experienced harassment in the workplace. Yet despite these staggering numbers, RAINN estimates that three out of every four assaults goes unreported. Far fewer sex crime cases resolve in a conviction than other types of violent crime. What accounts for such a discrepancy in the numbers?
The answer to that question is complex and is not the same for everyone who experiences assault or harassment. Several distinct reasons contribute to lower rates of reporting, however. What are they?
Harassment Often Flows From Cultures of Unaccountability
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a persistent problem affecting both sexes, but predominantly women. Harassment could constitute repeated, inappropriate “jokes” and comments or even some form of physical touching. Why don’t victims simply report harassers to management or Human Resources for action?
In some cases, a company may have a “culture” of harassment that normalizes unacceptable behavior to the point it becomes expected. Victims of harassment may feel that they won’t be heard even if they do report. In many other cases, there is a legitimate fear of retaliation through the loss of their job. Without a proactive policy of taking all allegations seriously, harassment often continues unabated.
Social Pressures Keep Victims Quiet
Once euphemistically referred to as “morals cases,” sexual assaults and rapes rarely factor into cultural conversations. Widespread attitudes that include elements of victim-blaming create an environment where individuals may begin to question whether what they experienced was even a crime. The problem compounds when the perpetrator is someone with status in a victim’s community or social circle.
Especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the portrayal of assault accusations in the media and their handling in political realms likely has an impact on how victims evaluate the risks of reporting too. From boastful claims about assaulting women captured on tape to high-profile political nominees shouting down accusations of abuse, the existing political landscape often seems to minimize the voices of victims. This happens even as the courts put other celebrity abusers, from Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein, behind bars. Such mixed messages may contribute to lower incidences of reporting as victims fear repercussions not only from their immediate social circle but from their wider community.
Personal Difficulties Make Reporting Harder
Alongside the political and cultural pressures that make reporting less likely, many personal factors could play a role, too. In the harassment example, financial hardship and the need to make ends meet may induce some to remain in job roles where they experience frequent harassing behavior. The fear of losing a vital source of income and an inability to find additional work may frighten a victim into concealing the details of what happened to them.
The fear of indifference or disbelief from friends and family is a powerful factor as well. Many victims know their assailants, contrary to the common belief that rape is often a spontaneous, random crime. Difficult cases such as date- and marital rape come with additional baggage that may make victims feel pressured to keep the details to themselves.
Seeking Help When You’ve Experienced Assault or Harassment
Although reporting is low, more states continue to adopt legal frameworks that provide protections for victims while strengthening penalties for sexual offenses. If you have experienced harassment in the workplace or have experienced an assault, consider speaking safely and confidentially to an understanding lawyer at HHJ Trial Attorneys. HHJ’s sexual assault attorneys will fight on your behalf and make sure that your voice is heard. Sexual assault and sexual harassment is never acceptable; call HHJ today and take the first step toward holding the perpetrator accountable for their actions.