This Is What It's Like For Women Who Report Rape Or Sexual Assault
Trigger warning: rape and sexual violence
Everyone knows that rape victims usually don’t tell. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest Network (RAINN), only 33.1% of all rapes get reported the police. And the most common location for sexual violence may be, shockingly, our college campuses. Culture of Respect says that a staggering 20%, or 1 in 5, college women, are survivors of sexual assault. Moreover, only 11% of rapes on campus are reported. It’s the most underreported violent crime out there.
And often times people ask: why didn’t you tell someone? Why didn’t you report it?
In my experience, when I was raped during college, I was encouraged to keep it under wraps because I’d have to relive the experience on the stand in a student judicial system, where I’d be openly questioned by my rapist — and there was a good chance he wouldn’t be convicted anyway.
This is why women often don’t report rape or sexual assault.
We victims are afraid that we won’t be believed. We don’t want to be re-traumatized by reliving the experience again and again for police, for lawyers, for whole courtrooms — being subjected to the horror of sexual assault is enough without a group of strangers nitpicking its details. You live in perpetual fear that any circumstance, any misspeaking, any small detail could lead to a total breakdown of the system and a rapist walking free.
No. We don’t want that. But we also don’t want to be known as The Girl Who Got Raped.
Rape victims may be punished themselves.
Because there are consequences of being The Girl Who Got Raped, as everyone who has reported a rape knows. We see it in the media; we see the stories filter through the cracks in the facade of the justice system; we hear them whispered in hallways and dorm rooms and board meetings. There can be swift personal and professional repercussion for reporting. Self tells of a female midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy who was “raped by three football players at an off-campus party in 2012.” She was summarily punished for underage drinking.
A student at Brigham Young reported a rape that happened while she was dropping acid, according to CNN; the school used her drug use to kick her out of school. Self also alleges that LGBTQ students who reported assault at Brigham Young were expelled for violating the Honor Code.
Then there’s the mental and emotional toll.
But most students who are raped don’t get kicked out of school. It’s a slow drip, a brain drain, a drop in grades; a subsequent loss of opportunities and internships. Rape victims often drop out of school: how many, we don’t know, because there’s no way to keep statistics on events that aren’t reported. But Quartz tells the story of Anna, a Notre Dame student who experienced acquaintance rape. She developed an eating disorder and depression, “nightmares, flashbacks, and paranoia.” She dropped out of school for good in 2013.
And if, as people estimate, rape triggers PTSD in 30-50% of survivors, normal college life — studying, keeping to class schedule — can become impossible. A change of scenery may be necessary for their mental health. Quartz reports that one study found that sexual assault victims had lower grades than women who hadn’t been assaulted, and the more traumatic the assault the lower the grades. How many women are leaving, are being minimized, are missing out on their dreams because a man decided to treat them like a non-person for a night, something to be used for fleeting sexual pleasure?
There’s also the direct career impact.
There can be overt career implications for reporting rape too, as many women in high-profile rape cases have discovered. Women live with fear, Psychology Today reports, of “losing their job, fear they won’t find another job, fear they will be passed over for a promotion, fear of losing their credibility, fear of being branded a troublemaker, fear of being blackballed in their industry.” This is especially true of girls in their first jobs or just starting their careers. And these fears aren’t without merit. One study reports that 75% of women who report sexual assault face retaliation in the form of missed promotions, increased scrutinization, being branded a troublemaker, or even being fired.
Take the recent high-profile cases against celebrities as examples. Time talks about how Dana Min Goodman and Julie Wolov reported sexual assault by comedian Louis CK. Their manager urged them to “keep the incident under wraps,” and they worry they were blocked from projects because of it.
Many women who refused Harvey Weinstein suffered the consequences. Tara Subkoff tells Time that turning him down meant that “her professional life never recovered.” She says her reputation was ruined by false gossip, and she couldn’t get work. Mira Sorvino felt “iced out” and believes she missed out on projects because of her rejection of Weinstein. Juliet Huddy, who made allegations against Bill O’Reilly, says he “began to retaliate both on and off the air.” He nitpicked her work. She was replaced on a segment of his show and had another one canceled.
At least 60 women have now accused Bill Cosby of rape or assault, says Time. Many report that it ruined their careers when it happened or when they came forward.
Imagine Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey — household names now. Their names are inextricable from the assaults they suffered at the hands of former president Bill Clinton. Imagine Anita Hill, who was called “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty” by conservatives after she accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. They will always be branded as victims, always be remembered for going public with their assaults. Always remembered as troublemakers, as black spots on the records of otherwise beloved men.
This is what happens when you break the silence.
#MeToo isn’t enough.
We can hashtag #MeToo all we want. We can tell our stories, we can stand in solidarity with one another. But ultimately, we are often punished by the same systems we turn to for protection. Title IX, a provision that deals with the way colleges must handle sexual assault cases, failed me. It failed Anna and other women at Notre Dame, one of whom committed suicide; it failed women at Brigham Young. Women who report to human resources face loss of their jobs, being branded troublemakers, and workplace retaliation. “My career was a victim,” Time reports one of Cosby’s accusers saying in a press conference. “You know that you’re just one person going up against a machine,” says Huddy, of her accusations against Fox News anchor O’Reilly, according to CNN.
How many careers are lost before they begin? How many are derailed? How many women suffer in silence because of the fear of repercussions? We’ll never know. But we do know this: #MeToo doesn’t go far enough. It fails to address the consequences of reporting rape and the repercussions victims face. It fails to respond to the ruined careers, the lost prospects, the broken dreams. We victims need an acknowledgment that rape doesn’t just affect us physically, emotionally, and psychologically. It can derail our careers. It can destroy our dreams.
Would I have gotten into another graduate school, would I have written better applications if I hadn’t been dealing with the aftermath of a rape? I’ll never know. But I know this: countless women suffer in silence the ramifications of an assault that not only stole their lives but also stole their careers. Their dreams. Their prospects. All because they had the courage to report it.
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