Sexual Abuse Victims: Why They Wait
“Why did she wait so many years?”
That’s the question asked by many during the recent testimony by Christine Blasey Ford at Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearings. This is a common tactic for those who seek to question the validity of sexual assault allegations which occurred years ago. The implication is that the length of time between the assault and the accusation somehow makes the allegations less credible.
The truth is this is common with victims of sexual assault, including both child and adult victims. From Supreme Court nominees to accusations against priests in the Catholic Church, sexual assault is in the headlines today, despite many assaults occurring decades ago.
So, why do the victims wait so long to report their assaults? The answer is complicated.
- The National Institute of Justice reports 42 percent of those physically forced to perform a sex act did not report their assault to police because they did not want anyone to know[i]. This shame is what we most commonly see as the reason for not reporting sex crimes.
- About 90 percent of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser[ii]. This makes it especially difficult for the child abuse victim to come forward. Most times, they do not want to upset their parents or partner.
- Many times the shame is also a fear that they will not be believed or that the victim will face retaliation for reporting the crime.
Studies show it takes an average of 20 years for a child who is a victim of assault to report the crime. The reasons for the delay include failing to realize the magnitude of the offense, embarrassment, fear of not being believed and the fear that reporting the abuse will not bring about a change.
This delay in reporting only causes victims further harm. For example, substance abuse is nearly three times more likely to occur in adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse[iii]. Depression, including suicide attempts, is twice as likely to happen in adults who were abused as children. The adult sufferers are also more likely to have stress-related health conditions including chronic headaches, obesity, heart conditions and hypertension[iv].
Georgia is one of the worst states in the country for protecting the victims of childhood abuse. Under current Georgia law, legal actions against alleged predators must be filed before the plaintiff reaches 23 years of age. Efforts were made to amend the law last year to extend the statute of limitations but the vote timed out in the Georgia Senate (see our previous blogs about the “Hidden Predator Act”).
We at Penn Law will continue to work diligently to see revisions to the Hidden Predator Act (HPA) passed by the Georgia Legislators. Introduced in 2018, the proposed revisions to the HPA would allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to bring civil claims against the individual abuser and any entity responsible for allowing such abuse. A bill similar to the revisions proposed in the Hidden Predator Act of 2018 is expected to be introduced during the 2019 Legislative Session. We will not stop until all protections are in place to protect sexual abuse victims in Georgia. If you or someone close to you has been a victim of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault, please contact Penn Law today at 404-961-7655.
[ii] Whealin, J. (2007-05-22). “Child Sexual Abuse”. National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, US Department of Veterans Affairs.
[iii] Dube, S. A., Anda, R. F., Whitfield, C. L., Brown, D. W., Felitti, D. J., Dong, M., & Giles, W. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of the victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 430 – 437.
[iv] Sachs-Ericsson, N., Blazer, D., Plant, E. A., & Arnow, B. (2005). Childhood sexual and physical abuse and 1-year prevalence of medical problems in the National Comorbidity Survey. Health Psychology, 24, 32 – 40.