By Kendyl Brower
10 years passed before Rachael Denhollander publicly accused former US Gymnastics Team Doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault. 18 years passed before Virginia Roberts Giuffre came out about her dehumanizing experience with Jeffery Epstein. 36 years passed before Christine Blasey Ford reported her assault story with Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Why do so many victims of sexual assault delay their reports or not come out at all? A variety of factors contribute to the difficulty of coming forward, but the issue boils down to one underlying theme: rape culture. This sociological concept downplays and normalizes the severity of assault through the glamorization of violence in media as well as ignorant gender stereotypes, creating a culture that enables sexual violence. The resulting societal norms— self-blame, unawareness, normalization, ignorance– prevent many victims from reporting their cases.
Many sexual assault victims feel embarassed or guilty of their situations. A Professor of sociology at West Virginia University, Karen Weiss, discovered that over 13 percent of women rate shame as their largest barrier. Some feel as though it was their job to prevent harassment; coming forward would publicize their weakness. As well, rape culture perpetuates the notion that victims should feel ashamed of their stories. Many women fear coming forward and being judged, blamed, defamed, or condemned. Male victims fear being perceived as weak or taking a hit to their masculinity, so they hold back from reporting an experience they are told they should enjoy.
Additionally, some victims blame themselves when the perpetrator is a close friend in order to save the relationship. Perhaps they can maintain a friendship with the aggressor, who in the victim’s mind, did no harm. This guiltiness prevents many from coming forward with the reality of the situation.
Rape culture, woven through the minds of many impressionable people, contributes to the lack of awareness for many victims. According to a study from the University of Mary Washington of 5917 women, 60.4 percent did not recognize their experience as rape. Rape culture often pushes a certain narrative to define rape: a women getting violently groped by a man. Yet, so many cases differ from the cultural definition of assault or rape, confusing the minds of many victims whose stories do not align. For example, some victims face psychological abuse, manipulation, or emotional coercion, all of which are a less known subject compared to what the media depicts.
Another study from Professor Weiss in which she analyzes data from National Crime Victimization Survey illustrates how rape culture normalizes harrassment for many young victims. Teens often question if their cases are worth reporting, seeing assault as “an inevitable part of youth” (Weiss). Unfortunately, as jarring data suggests harassment and assault cases are increasing, victims do not consider their situations as particularly important. The glamorization of assault in pop culture is everywhere; people are so accustomed to assault that it feels like an insignificant issue.
Lastly, many victims feel as though their cases will not be taken seriously. Reasonably, there are many reasons why victims feel this way. Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape, but only after 80 allegations. Epstein needed 23 allegations to be convicted. There are 43 allegations against former president Donald Trump, and the victim’s cases are still questioned and belittled by the public. With staggering numbers like these cases, victims often fear that they too, would not be taken seriously on their own. Rape culture relies on victim-blaming, scaring, and manipulating victims to stay silent. Many ask, “well, what were you wearing?”, as if the victim is at fault. Courts require that victims prove they did not give consent, not the aggressor to prove that consent was given. Evidently, the victims frequently take the blame when in reality, the only cause of rape is rapists.