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Adult Victims of Sexual AssaultChild Victims of Sexual AssaultSexual Harassment

Delayed Disclosure: Why Victims Don’t Come Forward

By February 21, 2019No Comments

Across the board, we see that victims of criminal activity delay disclosure of what happened to them and suffer in silence.  This delayed disclosure is most often found among victims of crimes that are sexual in nature.  The delayed disclosure of these crimes has been associated with impaired mental health and, therefore, it is extremely important to understand why victims wait.

Studies of rape victims have indicated that timely disclosure to police or mental health professionals is more uncommon than one would predict, especially when the rape has been committed on a date or by an acquaintance and involves the victim’s use of alcohol or drugs.  In addition, research has found delayed disclosure to be more common among adolescents than young adults.  Victims who were merely threatened or were penetrated without assault are also more likely to delay disclosure.  Victims in these cases believe that professionals will be less likely to help them because their experience does not match the stereotypical conceptions of rape (such as those involving a stranger, a weapon and severe injury).

In addition, victims of child sex abuse delay disclosure of the abuse or never report it at all.  One study of Canadian adults abused as children found that 58% delayed the disclosure and 20% never reported the abuse at all.  Many factors are at play in determining whether and/or when a child will report abuse, including: the age and development of the child, the relationship of the child to the perpetrator, the severity of the abuse and the availability of a strong support system.  Many children delay or fail to disclose abuse because they fear the adults in their life will not believe them and/or will minimize the crime.  Findings suggest that the majority of victims of child sexual abuse are most likely to report their abuse in adulthood, if at all.

Similarly, victims of sexual harassment have historically hesitated to come forward about the abusive behavior they have suffered (behavior ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault).  The most common explanations for failing to come forward include:  fear of retaliation, loss of career prospects and damage to their reputation.  In addition, victims mistakenly feel that they may have provoked or encouraged the criminal activity by being “too friendly,” by dressing provocatively or by implicitly consenting to the illegal behavior.  Furthermore, many victims fail to come forward in a timely manner because they are plagued by feelings of guilt, shame and divided loyalties.  They therefore blame themselves for the sexual misconduct of the perpetrator.

For reasons of public health and mental well-being, it is critical that we understand the potential factors related to disclosure.  Early disclosers are more likely to seek necessary medical care and to report the crime to the police.  In contrast, victims who wait longer than 1 month are more likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or another major depressive disorder.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of an unreported crime, you have rights in the civil justice system as well as in the criminal justice system. If you have questions, contact Koller Trial Law for a free consultation.