Why Sexual Abuse Victims Stay Silent
Unfortunately, abusers will abuse 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls before those children turn 18. Those facts might make it easier to answer the question of why sexual abuse victims stay silent.
The same research shows that 63% percent of sexual assault incidents are not reported to the police. A German study of 165 child sex abuse victims found in 2018 that it took an average of 24 years from the time of the abuse to tell anyone about it. Another 2014 study found the average age for reporting abuse is age 52.
For many reasons, victims of sexual abuse often take a long time to come forward, if they ever do. Learn more about why sexual abuse victims stay silent.
Victims of sexual abuse may feel like they’re alone, that the only person this awful thing happened to was them. In the past, society held educators and clergy in very high esteem. This made survivors of abuse less likely to want to report for fear of being disbelieved.
There is strength in numbers.
Larry Nassar, the gymnastics coach, was a respected member of his community, but look at how many girls and women came forth saying that he abused them. Once a few courageous survivors spoke out, others followed.
Some people are afraid if they speak up they won’t be heard or listened to, and that can cause feelings of being isolated and feeling like no one will understand what they’re going through. When they’re not listened to or heard when they first try to speak up, this deters them from speaking up again.
Fear of Not Being Believed
A big factor in victims not coming forward is the fear of not being believed.
Sometimes when they come forward, people tell them or imply that what happened was their own fault, that maybe they put themselves in that situation. Sometimes if the abuser seems respectable, people dismiss the accusations without looking into it.
Sometimes when kids tell their parents what happened, the parent doesn’t want to believe them because they think their child is lying or making up stories, when, in reality, children don’t usually lie about that sort of thing.
The Abuser is Someone in Power
Sometimes abuse victims don’t come forward because the person who abused them has power or something over them. This is especially true of the clergy. In particular, the view of clergy in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s was much different than it is today. It was only the in the early 1990s that these cases came to light. In 1993, as a TV journalist, I began reporting on these abuses in the Diocese of Buffalo. You can see my first story by clicking here.
If someone is also in a high place of power with money and resources, it may also make them harder to bring to justice if they have money to hire a great lawyer and the accused don’t.
Dealing With Stigma and Shame
There is still a lot of stigma around sexual abuse, and for some people, there is still a lot of shame around sex.
Even though it is not the survivor’s fault, that shame and stigma could still be attached to coming forward, and some may find it easier to keep quiet rather than to speak up.
Sometimes people ask what the survivor was wearing when the abused happened, implying that the victim incited the incident. This type of skepticism can retraumatize survivors.
Help for Victims of Sexual Abuse
The New York Child Victims Act gives survivors of childhood sexual abuse new rights. There is a one year window to bring a claim against church’s schools and other institutions who employed and protected predators.
If you are ready to come forward with your story, we can help. If you are not ready to discuss your case with an attorney, I strongly urge you to consider counseling. Counseling can provide a great deal of healing for people who have lived with the pain of childhood abuse.
If you decide to get legal help, we will hear and help you. We only charge legal fees if your case is resolved. For more information, check us out here.