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EVAWI > Resources > Best Practices > FAQs > Victim Dynamics
Q Is there research documenting the reasons why sexual assaults victims do not report immediately?
A Is there research documenting the reasons why sexual assaults victims do not report immediately?

Two large-scale national studies (the National Women’s Study and the National Violence Against Women Survey) converge on the finding that a very small minority (16-19%) of female victims report their sexual assault to law enforcement (National Victim Center, 1992; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006). Of these, only one-quarter report the crime within 24 hours (National Victim Center, 1992). In other words, most victims do not report their sexual assault to the police, and when they do, it is usually after some delay. This is clearly in contrast with the stereotype that “real rape” is reported immediately, and it challenges the idea that non-reporting or delayed reporting are reasons for viewing the report with suspicion. However, crimes are more likely to be reported if they are committed by a stranger, as opposed to someone the victim knows (e.g., Koss et al., 1988; Ullman, 1999).

To find out more about why so many of the sexual assault victims in the NVAWS did not report to law enforcement, those who decided not to report were asked for their reasons why. Of these:

  • 22% cited fear of the perpetrator as the reason for not reporting
  • 18% stated that they were too ashamed or embarrassed
  • 18% felt that the incident was minor, and not a crime or a police matter
  • 13% believed that the law enforcement agency could not do anything
  • 12% were concerned that officers would not believe or blame them

These responses are instructive for community professionals, because they provide a glimpse into the perceptions of the public about how they will be treated if they report a sexual assault – particularly whether the report will be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.

This response is an adapted excerpt from the OnLine Training Institute (OLTI) module entitled, Dynamics of Sexual Assault: What Does Sexual Assault Really Look Like?

Koss, M.P., Dinero, T.E., Seibel, C.A., & Cox, S.L. (1988). Stranger and acquaintance rape: Are there differences in the victim’s experience? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 12, 1-24.

National Victim Center (1992). Rape in America: A report to the nation. Arlington, VA: National Victim Center and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center. Available at: http://www.evawintl.org/Library/DocumentLibraryHandler.ashx?id=538

Tjaden, P. & Thoennes, N. (2006). Extent, nature, and consequences of rape victimization: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey (NCJ 210346). Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: www.ncjrs.gov.

Ullman, S.E. (1999). Social support and recovery from sexual assault: A review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 4 (3), 343-358.

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