I was in middle school when I was sexually assaulted. I never thought of it as sexual assault until my senior year of high school. Before then, I had seen the incident as being my fault. I had caused the problem — I had said yes. I was 13, I knew right from wrong, so who am I to blame someone else? That thinking is flawed. I had no idea what right or wrong was. I was manipulated into doing something I never wanted to do — and no, I will probably never report it.
Many encourage survivors of sexual assault to report, but I believe reporting does more damage mentally to the victim and rarely leads to justice being served. According to RAINN — the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network — out of every 1,000 rapes, only 310 are reported and six of those cases will result in the perpetrator being incarcerated.
I didn’t report because I blamed myself and I didn’t stop blaming myself until the end of my freshman year in college. I thought no one would believe me, especially considering the perpetrator was a favorite of teachers and students. He played sports and led the school to victories. No one would ever believe the weird black girl. I still haven’t reported because it sometimes seems like this is a boy’s world — the justice system has that exact mentality. It feels like everyone is backing the perpetrators but no one is standing behind the victim as they crumble inside.
The saddest part is that if there is a conviction, there is only a 69 percent chance the person will spend time in jail. So here is another way to look at it: out of the 39 percent of cases reported to the police, there is only a 16.3 percent chance the assailant will end up in prison, according to the Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine.
I didn’t want to put myself through the emotional devastation taking him to court would entail. I don’t want to relive that day again for the rest of my life when I am finally starting to let go and be okay. I can’t put my family through the agony of seeing me in pain when in my gut, I know he won’t go to jail. I already know how this will end, it’ll be turned into a he said-she said battle and when I become emotional on stand, it’ll be cause for disbelief. I will have to deal with people calling me a liar — telling me I’m trying to ruin his life; calling me a slut, a dumb bitch and every other name they can think of.
You ask us victims why we don’t report, then turn around and call us liars when we do. Society turns its back on survivors of sexual assault. There is never a convenient time to speak out about sexual assault. But I guess it was just convenient for him to sexually assault me. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to work up the bravery needed to report, but then we’re told it’s been too long for any proper evidence. As if the deterioration of my mental state and the nights I stay up crying myself to sleep aren’t evidence enough. When there is proper evidence and witnesses, we are told there isn’t. In situations like the recent hearings on sexual assault allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford didn’t report — and probably never would have — until learning of her alleged assailant’s nomination. Anita Hill spoke out against Justice Clarence Thomas under similar circumstances. The approval of these two men to the highest court in the nation further proves the justice system doesn’t care for sexual assault victims.
There’s a certain mental struggle survivors go through just to make it through the day. We have to pep-talk ourselves into getting out of bed, showering, putting on clothes and even stepping out of the door. Being sexually assaulted leaves you in a dark room alone where you have to force yourself to keep pushing. You have to find a reason to keep going — anything to keep you alive. There’s the constant belief that your perpetrator will return. Once you’ve been sexually assaulted, you are afraid to go out. Even the slightest touch can send you back into that moment. People don’t understand why you are constantly closed off, but I don’t know how to explain my sexual assault to my loved ones.
Once a report is made, an investigation starts. Strangers tear apart your world to determine whether you are lying — it’s next-level invasive. You go through hours of questioning, trying to recall a specific moment while holding back tears and shivering. Your personal belongings are put into evidence bags and stored away in lockers. You might have to stand naked in front of a male while he photographs your body, especially the parts that have already been violated. Your family and your friends are questioned. The door is open to strangers to form opinions about your decisions. All that could be done and the one who sexually assaulted you might never see the inside of a jail cell. But I’ve formed my own cell within my body, mentally rotting away while he lives his life perfectly fine.
Reporting isn’t as easy as it sounds. Healing takes a long time — sometimes it might take a lifetime. It’s time we stop punishing survivors as if they haven’t already gone through enough. As if they aren’t having to learn to rebuild themselves from scratch on their own, learning to be comfortable in their skin again. To all the people questioning the decisions of someone who has been sexually assaulted — you can’t begin to understand how it feels.
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