The Problem With #WhyIDidntReport

It was not until I was able to identify the emotions hidden by the sudden onset of flashbacks to my childhood abuse and significant sleep interruptions that I realized we have a problem with #WhyIDidntReport. When I first noticed this trending hashtag late last week, I experienced an onslaught of emotions: anger, boldness, frustration, sadness, and vulnerability. I was enraged when I read my President’s words 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 parents…” As I read my President’s words and thought back to my experiences, I imagined him telling me “if the attack on Kendall was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities…” These words felt like a personal attack on me, and an attack on every other survivor who has made the decision to not report. As soon as I saw #WhyIDidntReport trending, I immediately jumped in and boldly typed my reasons for not reporting. My statement wasn’t tweeted with the purpose of raising awareness, but it came from a place of deep hurt and was more of an attempt to defend my decisions from what I perceived as an attack. It was a tweet sent with an urgency I had not felt before. It was an attempt to mitigate the shame that was creeping in as I questioned whether what happened to me was as bad as it was since I made the decision not to report. 

I am not going to share my political beliefs because this is NOT an issue of politics. It is a SOCIETAL issue. It is a HUMANITY issue.

There are literally thousands of reasons that victims of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault as an adult do not report. And each reason is valid. You can view the hashtag to see why.

We cannot expect a child to report his/her own abuse. Children do report abuse; however, it is too often met with more questions than support. Here is an example of what happens when a child does courageously disclose abuse: Disclosure 1- unfounded/disbelief. Disclosure 2- made to a mandated reporter (teacher 1) with reports then made to the following individuals at different points (teacher 1, teacher 2, guidance counselor, social worker 1, social worker 2, SBI Agent 1 and 2, child advocacy center, counselor 1, ADA’s 1 and 2). This does not include family members and friends who want to know what’s happening in this child’s life. This disclosure ended in the abuser spending 48 hours in jail, 36 months of probation, and 12 years on the sex offender registry. Unfortunately, in so many cases, there isn’t a disclosure 1 or 2 for a multitude of reasons. 

An adult has the ability to weigh the options and choose whether the price he/she will pay for reporting is worth it, whether in the immediate aftermath of an assault or years later. For adults who experienced childhood sexual abuse and a subsequent sexual assault in adulthood, it often will not feel “worth it” to go through the reporting process again.  That is how deeply painful it is to make a report. 

Disclosures of abuse happen when the cost of not reporting is greater than the cost of reporting. Disclosures of abuse seldom happen with a person seeking some sort of benefit- because there is rarely any type of immediate benefit following a disclosure. Often, the act of disclosing and the decision to report is further traumatizing, maybe even more so than the actual crime. I pray for the day when every single person who has been abused in any form can report and it not cost them what it does today. But as a person who has made the decision to not report, I will not expect others to report in what society deems as a timely manner.

I am afraid that #WhyIDidn’tReport has resulted in more survivors taking responsibility for something they should not have to defend. I do believe it has resulted in a greater awareness of why we do not report. But it runs the risk of evoking deep shame and self-blame for not reporting when no one should feel those emotions for that decision.

Our expectation should not be for survivors to report more but for abusers to stop abusing. #WhyIDidntReport should be replaced with #WhyIDontAbuse.  

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Responding to Disclosures #MeToo

Over the last several months, we have watched #MeToo permeate news cycles. The movement has resulted in many people coming forward to share their stories of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. We have watched as powerful  and/or highly-regarded men, particularly in media and politics, have finally faced consequences for the crimes they have committed. This movement has challenged people to consider how they will respond to these types of disclosures. How did you respond when the news broke about Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, or Roy Moore? Overwhelmingly, the response has been supportive for the incredibly brave individuals who have courageously shared their stories; however, there have been many instances of questioning the validity of such disclosures. Before this movement, society was not as welcoming towards disclosures of sexual crime. Victims were often blamed, rather than believed. Sexual harassment was considered the norm, just a piece of the “boys will be boys” culture (although women are perpetrators too). The #MeToo movement has initiated a change in the way disclosures are regarded; however, there is still a ways to go. 

I want to share two things about disclosures of sexual crimes that are often points of contention for people who are unsure about the validity of such disclosures. 

1). Disclosures are not always timely- in fact, more often than not they will come in the months, years, or decades after the incident. Many times, our lives are threatened, our family’s lives are threatened, our careers are threatened, etc. Too many times our abusers have been accurate in their statements that “no one will believe you,” which reinforces our silence. We were likely manipulated to believe that the abuse or harassment was either the norm or somehow our fault. Please, do not blame or fault us for not coming forward immediately. 

2). Disclosures probably will not include all the details. First, if the abuse or harassment occurred frequently or over an extended time, it is impossible to recall each incident in a moment. Sometimes, our disclosures may include only a small piece of our story in an effort to see if that piece will be believed before we share the painful details of our experiences. Most of the time, our brain simply can not piece everything together to form a coherent narrative until we have had the time to process the trauma with a counselor. It takes time. When I reflect on my timeline of disclosure, it took several years before I felt safe enough to share most everything that happened to me. Please, be patient and do not assume we are lying or making things up because we do not recall everything that happened when you ask. 

In my conversations with people who have experienced sexual assault, sexual abuse, and/or sexual harassment, and in my life, more than anything- we want to be believed and we want our experiences to be validated. #MeToo has created a place where this occurs, and my hope is that it will continue to change the societal response to disclosures. 

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Photo by: Mihai Surdu via Pixabay

I would love to hear your views on the #MeToo movement! How has it changed how you view disclosures either positively or negatively? How have you responded to the “downfall” of well-known individuals who have been accused of sexual crimes? 

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section or via the Contact Me page.