by Michelle Grunkenmyer, LAPC
We have been exposed this past year to a number of men and women who have come forward making accusations of sexual assault against well-known public figures and members of organizations including churches and schools. Often, these accusations are based on events that occurred years ago, even decades at times. It might be difficult to understand why sexual assault survivors do not report these crimes at the time they occur – perhaps in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. We may wonder why it took decades to “tell.” Professionals in the field of counseling recognize that this is a common phenomenon.
so why so many sexual assault victims do not report immediately?
A dynamic may develop drawing a victim into a web of silence and shame. Abusers, especially those with histories of targeting vulnerable people, are often skillful manipulators. They use power or family connections to gain access to young people. These young people are then manipulated to feel complicit in the act(s). The abuser may tell them they came willingly into a basement or isolated room. Victims who are assaulted by family members or people in a position of power in organizations may begin to believe it is their fault. They may be silenced by shame as the abuse continues, the web tightening even more around them.
Another complexity is that, often, sexual assault victims know that their abusers have good reputations and are well-liked. Survivors may not want to “hurt” their family or organization, or may feel that no one will believe them because the perpetrators are often esteemed in their communities. Consequently, they often feel trapped and feel bound to silence and shame.
As seen often, sexual assault survivors are often manipulated to feel complicit or responsible for what happened – it is how many perpetrators continue to gain access to victims – And in that sense of responsibility, sexual assault victims may stay silent out of a misplaced sense of shame, not realizing how they have been manipulated into feeling complicit.
For more information on sexual violence, please consult the link below: