Victims of underreported crimes soughtWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
She blamed herself.
She was 18. She was at a friend’s house drinking beer. She started getting so tired she could barely keep her eyes open. She remembered her friend leaving the room with a partner, leaving her alone with a man she hardly knew. Then, nothing.
She awoke the next morning naked. In bed next to the man she hardly knew. Fumbling to get dressed and still feeling woozy, she fled the room before he awoke. She never saw him again. But she hasn’t completely recovered nine years later. She doesn’t think victims really ever do.
Days later, her so-called friend approached her and admitted she had drugged her drink. She was too uptight about men, her friend told her, so this friend figured she’d make things a little easier.
Sharon (not her real name — Toledo Free Press does not identify rape or sexual assault victims) was “uptight about men” because she was molested as a child.
Even still, Sharon said she fell victim not only to a man, but to her own self-doubt.
“Victim blaming — it is a huge reason why victims do not come forward and it starts long before the victim goes to court,” said Deborah Stoll, director of the YWCA H.O.P.E. Center. “Many people believe and accept the myths of rape. We accept as truth that somehow the victim is responsible for what happens to her; that she shouldn’t be out at night, shouldn’t be drinking, she shouldn’t flirt, she shouldn’t be wearing certain kinds of clothing.”
Fearing that type of reaction, Sharon didn’t talk to her friends or family. She did not report the rape to the police. She worried that she would get in trouble for underage drinking.
“At the time, I didn’t completely understand that it was rape,” she said. “I felt like I had that drink, I wasn’t able to say no, so if i didn’t say no was that really rape? In my mind, that was the process I was going through. It took me a while to come to the conclusion that what happened to me wasn’t my fault.”
It took nearly five years. One of Sharon’s friends had a similar experience and came to her to talk. Sharon found herself repeating to her friend that it wasn’t her fault. That she shouldn’t feel guilty. That she was a victim. And then it clicked.
“If I feel this way about her then why am I so hard on myself?” she wondered.
Reassuring a victim in the same way Sharon did to her friend is one of the most important offerings toward recovery you can make, Stoll said.
Reporting a rape is intimidating, Sharon said. There’s the courtroom experience, in which the defense sometimes alleges a victim’s history of flirting or promiscuity or blurs the line as to whether the victim provoked sexual activity between herself or gave tacit consent to the alleged rapist. And prior to that, victims fear being charged with falsifying a police report if his or her story has any holes or discrepancies, Sharon said.
Fifty-four percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. And 97 percent of rapists will never go to jail, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey. Nationally, nine out of 100 rapes end up in prosecution.
According to the City of Toledo’s 2010 Annual Report, 140 rapes were reported in 2010.
That was down from 165 the year prior. The clearance rate in 2010 was reported at 34.3 percent, down from 37.6 percent the year before.
Sharon started volunteering at the H.O.P.E. Center a few years ago. She said she wished she would have used some of the services following her incident but that she feared to come forward.
The center will participate in the Victims’ Rights Survivor Night on April 25 with the goal to reach out to more men and women who have yet to seek aid.
The H.O.P.E. Center has a 24-hour crisis line, often used by individuals who have been raped in the past and are facing the depression, the insomnia and eating disorders after the assault. The organization also has a program that sends an advocate to emergency rooms to talk to victims who share what their options are if they want to report to the police. The center also has support groups for the victims. There are about 160 victims a year.
Sharon grimaces when thinking about the common perception that rape victims are typically accosted by “that guy in the bushes” or in a “dark alley.”
Her assailant was an acquaintance. About two-thirds of rape victims across the country also know their aggressor, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Stoll has a theory as to why misconceptions about rape still exist despite the data.
“We believe them for self protection; if we say we can protect ourselves by not going out at night or watching where we park then we feel safer,” Stoll said. “And I think it also is why we point fingers at victims and we look for things that they did wrong so we can avoid those pitfalls.”