Sexual assault has always been a problem. We’re just starting to hear more about it
Two high-profiled sexual assault cases were heard during the last weeks of September, but they ended with very different outcomes.
Former actor Bill Cosby had been accused several times of drugging and sexually assaulting at least 60 women throughout the past decades. On Sept. 25, 2018, Cosby was found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault and must formally register as a sexually violent predator. Cosby’s lawyers are currently seeking a retrial.
Just two days later, on Sept. 27, 2018, Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for an alleged assault that took place during the summer of 1982 by then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Kavanaugh’s former classmate and friend Mark Judge.
More accusers came forward during the hearings, but Kavanaugh was ultimately sworn in as a U.S. Supreme Court justice a little more than a week later on Oct. 6 during a private ceremony.
“I believe Christine Blasey Ford,” the signs read. “I still believe Anita Hill.”
Sexual violence cases have become more prominent throughout the recent years, leading to an increase in media coverage and survivor support systems.
Sexual assault and sexual harassment refers to any form of sexual activity that is done without the full consent from the people involved. Although Ford claimed that Kavanaugh and Judge’s attempt at rape was unsuccessful, the act is legally categorized as sexual assault in Washington, DC, where it took place. Sexual violence includes both contact activities such as groping, and non-contact activities such as sending unwanted sexual images.
Sexual assault in the U.S.
According to the 2018 Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault by Stop Street Harassment, more than 80 percent of women and 40 percent of men in the U.S. have experienced some form of sexual assault or sexual harassment.
Prior to that study, the U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control 2010–2012 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey had reported that one in three women and one in six men have experienced sexual violence during their lifetime.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that people who identify as LGBTQ+ have a higher risk of experiencing sexual violence. The National Center for Transgender Equality 2015 survey found that nearly half of the total respondents of more than 27,000 individuals experienced sexual violence during their lifetime, with at least one in 10 individuals reported having experienced sexual assault within the past year.
There has been an increase in sexual violence reports throughout the decades. The rise in cases, however, is not due to more sexual violence cases taking place.
In an interview with Money, University of Akron law professor Tracy Thomas said the presence of famous celebrities coming forward to speak out about their own experiences with sexual violence has validated people’s personal experiences.
“What do we focus on in our society? Movies and social media and People magazine,” Thomas said in the article. “So those are the voices that finally… make a difference.”
The #MeToo movement has spurred more sexual assault survivors to share their stories. A poll by Rasmussen Reports found that nearly 70 percent of U.S. voters believe that media publications are beginning to cover more sexual violence cases.
Statistics on sexual violence
The 2018 fact sheets by the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week reported that at least one in five female students have experienced a form of sexual assault throughout their time on campus. Less than 10 percent of sexual violence survivors in college reported their experiences to authority figures.
As part of the Clery Act, federal-funded colleges are required to disclose campus security information such as sexual violence allegations as well as track sexual violence statistics. K-12 institutions, however, are not required to do the same.
The Associated Press uncovered more than 17,000 reports of sexual assaults at American K-12 institutions throughout a period of four years. One in four girls and one in six boys will have experienced sexual assault by the time they turn 18 years old. At least 34 percent of child sexual assaulters are family members related to the victim. Despite that, only 12 percent of child sexual abuse cases are reported.
According to the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, the ideas that sexual violence only occurs between strangers, victims are only attacked in dark places or that rape is only done by people with psychological issues are all myths.
More often than not, sexual violence survivors are familiar with their attackers. FiveThirtyEight found that in 2017, 39 percent of survivors reported that their attacker as an acquaintance, 33 percent reporting their attacker being an intimate partner or spouse and only 19 percent reported not knowing their attacker at all.
According to NPR, a 2002 study found that out of 1,882 college-age men, at least six percent (120) had committed rape toward someone they knew. 76 out of those 120 participants were repeat offenders, many who had began their sexual assaults before college and each of them having on average committed six counts of rape. Altogether, the 120 male respondents committed more than 400 rapes, none of which were ever reported.
A 2015 report by the JAMA Network found that those numbers have not changed throughout the past decade.
False accusations cases, such as the now-retracted Rolling Stone article about a gang rape incident at University of Virginia, are infamously used as arguments against rape reports.
According to Quartz, however, the National Registry of Exonerations only lists roughly 52 exoneration cases where men who were convicted of sexual assault were found to have been falsely accused between 1989 and 2017. In comparison, there were 790 cases where people were exonerated for murder during the same period of time.
Cases of false accusations are rare. A 2012 report by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that false reports only occur between two and 10 percent of the time.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center lists rape as the highest under-reported crime. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 63 percent of sexual assault cases in 2000 were not reported to the police.
According to RAINN, the likelihood of reported sexual violence perpetrators being found guilty of sexual crimes is very low. Less than one-third of every 1,000 sexual assault cases is reported to authorities. Less than half of those reports will lead to arrest, and even less leads to the perpetrator’s conviction.
The lack of conviction rates, however, is only one of the many reasons why survivors stay quiet about their assaults.
After the violence
According to Psychology Today, research found that the fear of stigma is one of the main reasons why sexual violence survivors do not report their assaults. Many sexual violence survivors do not contact authorities if they believe that they’re somehow responsible for their assaults, especially if they were under the influence of alcohol or if they know the perpetrator.
Many sexual violence survivors still experience a wide range of physical and psychological aftereffects as a result of sexual violence years or decades after the original assault.
A 2018 research study by the JAMA Network found that female sexual violence survivors face a much higher risk of experiencing depression, anxiety and insomnia among other drawbacks than a person who has not experienced sexual violence.
According to a 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the lifetime cost each rape survivor faces is estimated to be more than $120,000. This cost includes: criminal justice costs, property loss or damage, lost work productivity as well as physical and mental health treatments.
“She should have spoke sooner”
Days before Ford testified in front of the Senate Judicial Committee on an alleged sexual assault by Kavanaugh that took place during the summer of 1980s, President Donald Trump criticized Ford’s story on Twitter.
“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!” Trump tweeted.
During Ford’s testimony, she said the fact that she was underage “in a house without any parents present, drinking beer with boys,” was why she didn’t contact authorities immediately after being assaulted.
“Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life. For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone these details …” Ford said during her testimony. “I convinced myself that because Brett (Kavanaugh) did not rape me, I should move on and just pretend it didn’t happen.”
Ford’s hesitation to file a report with authorities is not uncommon.
Rachael Denhollander was the first women to publicly accused former USA Gymnastics an Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar of sexually assaulting her under the pretense of medical treatment. The assault had first began when she was a 15-year-old gymnast at Kalamazoo, Michigan, and she was not the only one who had experienced sexual assault under Nassar.
Sixteen years after Nassar first sexually abused her, Denhollander would become the final victim impact speaker among the more than 150 women and girls who confronted Nassar during his sentencing hearing in January 2018.
Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in state prison for several counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Prior to that, Nassar had been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for possession of child pornography. Nassar was recently unsuccessful in appealing his sentences.
Denhollander addressed why she did not come forward earlier about the sexual abuse she faced under Nassar in a series of tweets as a result of Ford’s allegations.
“1 “Why’d you wait so long?” Here’s a big part of why: Because for years I watched family and friends eviscerate sexual assault victims who spoke up against a candidate, team, pastor, ministry or local friend they liked, and I got the message loud and clear.” Denhollander’s tweets read.
“2 And that showed me what they REALLY thought about abuse and what they REALLY thought about victims, when sexual abuse wasn’t an easy thing to condemn. I knew it meant if faced with a choice between a survivor and their favorite “whatever”, they’d attack the survivor.”
There had been alleged victims filing reports against Nassar since as early as 1997. None had been addressed publicly prior to Nassar’s hearings.
When Denhollander began her crusade against Nassar in 2016, however, more survivors came forward publicly.
And as Christine Blasey Ford shared her story of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh, sexual violence survivors flooded C-SPAN with calls about their own experiences with sexual violence, many of which occurred decades ago. According to RAINN spokesperson Sara McGovern during an email interview with CNN, there was an at least 200 percent increase in calls.
Weeks after the Blasey Ford-Kavanaugh hearing, sexual violence survivors continue to share sharing their stories through hashtags like #WhyIDidntReport on social media networks.
In an era of #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport
The Stanford Rape Case grabbed the attention of the world when Buzzfeed published the sexual violence survivor’s victim impact statement online.
In January 2015, two Stanford University graduate students found Emily Doe (not her real name) unconscious and half naked behind a dumpster. On top of her was Brock Turner, who immediately ran when confronted of committing assault toward Emily Doe, but was later caught and taken to authorities.
Turner was supposed to face a maximum of 14 years in state prison after being found guilty of three counts of sexual assault by the California jury. Turner was required to register as a sexual offender, but was instead sentenced to six months in county jail and probation by Judge Aaron Persky, who said a longer sentence in prison would have had a “severe impact” on Turner. In the end, Turner only served three months in jail.
“I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me.” Emily Doe wrote in the full statement published by Buzzfeed. “It is the saddest type of confusion to be told I was assaulted and nearly raped, blatantly out in the open, but we don’t know if it counts as assault yet. I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation.”
The letter quickly grew viral online, drawing in more than 10 million views within days of being published and soon led to public outrage over how Emily Doe was questioned during the hearing and the lenient sentencing Turner was given.
Online petitions to recall Persky as a result of his too-lenient sentencing began to spread and in June 2018, Persky became the first California judge to be recalled in 86 years.
Social media networks have become more important than ever for sexual violence survivors to find the support they need to share their stories.
Listen to their stories
In 2017, movements such as Me Too and Times Up Now spread virally across Twitter through hashtags in wake of numerous well-known personalities sharing their own experiences with sexual assault as well as the increase in allegations against powerful individuals in Hollywood.
And in 2018, months before Brett Kavanaugh’s first hearing as a supreme court justice nominee, Christine Blasey Ford was unsure about coming forward with the allegation. It had been more than 30 years since the assault first took place.
Blasey Ford ultimately came forward publicly about the assault in an interview with The Washington Post.
“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified,” Blasey Ford said during her testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”
Outside, protesters held signs and marched in support of Blasey Ford.
“Believe survivors,” the signs read.
For help or additional information, contact RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800–656–4673 or National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800–799–7233.