Why Don't More Victims of Rape Come Forward?

image by Adi Constantin

image by Adi Constantin

The following is a true account of someone I don't know personally, but of someone a friend of mine knows. The victim shared her story on Facebook to shed light on why so many victims do not come forward or report that they are victims of rape. With so many women in our community revealing that they have been sexually assaulted, our belief and support are more important than ever. The following may be difficult to read, but I encourage you to do so anyways.

Here is Her Story

For those wondering about what happens when you report to the police, I was raped in North Carolina in 2006. I immediately went to the police. The following is my experience, that I hope answers a few questions or curiosities as to what it means to a victim to report an assault, and what it means to be ‘assaulted all over again’ when doing so.

Having gone through this, I will say that the days, weeks, and months following my assault, as I navigated this 'system', were more damaging than the assault itself. I honestly don't know if I would report again. I still have a hard time around police officers 10 years later.

The Morning After

I returned to my home the next morning, and called the police. A solo YOUNG MALE officer came to take my statement, alone, in my home. I was 25 years old at the time. The officer followed me to the Duke University Hospital (where I also worked). I drove my own car so he could leave right after checking me into the ER.

The Rape Kit

There were nurses, an advocate, as well as 3 or 4 medical students in the room (it was a teaching hospital). My clothes were taken and boxed, and I was given hospital gowns. The police officer did not warn me of this, and in my state, I did not think ahead that this would happen. This meant I got to eventually leave the hospital in a gown.

Every inch of my body was photographed. This included inside my mouth, and my vagina. A camera, video, and a light were inserted into my vagina while I was in stirrups, with the video projected onto a large TV screen for everyone to see. I was told that according to the ‘clock’ method of determining internal injuries, I had sufficient internal damage (tearing and bruising) in the appropriate places to be consistent with ‘very rough sex or non-consensual intercourse’. I had strangulation bruising around my neck that was photographed, as well as bruising on both wrists consistent with those of being held down against my will. (There was another person holding me down during my assault, hence the multiple hold point bruising)

I was told by the nurse that 12 hrs was too long for a urine test to be useful, so none was taken. Blood was drawn. I signed consent forms to have my blood tested for every STD they could test for, and was briefed on follow-up HIV testing. To take the morning after pill in NC there were rules. I had to have graphic pamphlets with photos of late term abortions read to me with witnesses to allow me to consent to taking a morning after pill for a sexual experience that happened about 12 hours earlier. (I am not sure of laws now)

I was in the hospital for about 5 or 6 hours. Was given handfuls of pills to combat whatever STDs they could, and given information on booking follow-ups. These pills made me feel very sick for the next few days, on top of my body’s response to having been assaulted. I worked for the same University at the time and had good health insurance. My part of the bill was over $1500 for the visit, and was told that ‘IF THERE WAS A CONVICTION, I could apply for the victim's fund to cover it’. (I’m not sure what the exact laws were, but I applied anyways and was not reimbursed anything.)

The Police (The Worst 12 Hours of My Entire Life)

I spent the next 12 hours at the local police station, locked in an interrogation room with no food or water. I was allowed one bathroom break at some point when I seriously thought I might pass out from having to go so badly.

I had brought an advocate with me, who was not allowed in the room with me, and was not there when I was finally let go – they told her to go home. I was interrogated by an officer who reminded me of Iceman from Top Gun. Tall, broad, probably late 30’s, very sure of himself, very sure that I was lying. Afterwards, I wrote down all I could remember. I have a huge file of everything from this period. I have attached a photo of the biggest list I found. I have a hard time remembering all the details now, and things come to me a bit scattered at this point.

Some samples of what was said to me in interrogation:

  • ‘Just tell the truth, let it go, just let It out, do the right thing, admit you are lying’
  • ‘You remember too much’
  • 'You remember too little’
  • 'I think that things got out of hand and you felt bad about it’
  • ‘Did you do things to make him think that it was ok to have sex with you?’
  • ‘A lot of people who falsely report, do it for attention’
  • ‘Aren’t you going to lose friends over this? Think about his girlfriend. How will she feel?

He even threatened to call my parents in Canada and tell them I was a liar. He was determined to make me say it was a lie. I refused to bend, he finally let me go. This experience made me seriously wonder about even the supposed 1% false reports… how many of those were just woman who needed out of that room again… did what they were being asked to do so this new violation could stop… again? 

The Weeks After

I was told the two named offenders were called and ‘invited to come in at their own convenience’ to answer a few friendly questions. They said it was consensual sex. Everyone was polygraphed a few weeks later.

I could write a novel on this horrific experience alone. I was told they both passed, and I failed mine. (They aren’t admissible in court, but I was told they WOULD charge ME with false reporting if I did not take one. There is a pile of evidence on why assault victims will repeatedly fail a polygraph due to reliving the experience) I eventually made a formal written and verbal complaint against the officer in charge of my case. His supervisor (a woman) called me and told me that my complaint would NOT be filed, as I was a liar, and that’s how they treat liars. She said they’d never had a complaint about him before. He was promoted that year.

Important After Points

After being repeatedly accused by both the detective and his superiors of ‘making it all up’, they admitted they NEVER EVEN LOOKED AT THE HOSPITAL FILE WITH THE PHOTOS OF MY INJURIES during the whole investigation. At the time, I was told there was a backlog of over 1000 rape kits in North Carolina, and so mine would likely never be processed.

I consulted lawyers and advocate agencies at the time. I was appropriately supported and given the resources I needed to heal personally, but legally there wasn’t much to do. I was advised to ‘let it go’ unless I really needed to go through it all in court for personal healing. I decided to stop pushing for it.

I heard socially a few years later that another person came forward to friends and said they had done it to them too. They remained anonymous and didn’t wish to go forward legally. Unfortunately, we are probably not the only two out there…

This was 10 years ago, I’ve healed, I’ve grown, I’ve moved forward. I’m settled and sure of myself, and if you have questions, ask away. I’m not going to defend my actions that happened 10 years ago during a traumatic time, but if you want to know more details of the process or are curious, I have no problems discussing this openly. I hope this at least gives those who wonder, an idea on why women may choose not to report. I only provided the medical/police story… I didn’t even start on what my actual reporting and legal process meant to me as a person or socially. And honestly, I had a crapload of evidence, and the police didn't even look at it.

Lastly, bless you for the thousands of “I believe you” statements that pour in for those that need to hear it now. Those words are utterly vital for survival, and they truly saved my life when I needed them.

To everyone who has been violated, I believe you, and we are here for you.

Written by Erin Douglas

If you've been a victim of sexual assault, you are not alone. This organization, RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) can assist you in getting the help you need.