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Why The Wait

Why the Wait

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A great friend asked what a great many others have asked about the rape allegations against Bill Cosby: Why would a rape victim wait to disclose his/her assault? Further, why would one wait weeks, months, years, even decades, which generally means all evidence has been destroyed. It saddens me that society seems to have fallen so far from empathy that we’re okay with blaming alleged victims for not telling us sooner that they were victimized. It’s hard to tell, though, if that’s resultant from a lack of empathy or an assertion of privilege. Regardless, I’ll share just a few of the reasons I listed for why victims/survivors of rape may delay in coming forward about what is likely some of their most pain-filled and shame-filled life experiences. The highlighted list below isn’t exhaustive. In fact, we’d love to hear from our readers in the comments section.

  1. Rape is often THE most shame-filled moments of a person’s life. Rape carries with it the stigma of the victim being damaged goods. In 2014, there are still women being killed (usually termed “honor killings”) because they were raped. I’m aware some are only beaten. There’s a reason only 40% of rapes are reported to the police, and only 3% of rapists ever spend a single day in jail. Do we really believe society is supportive of rape victims/survivors?
  2. Allow me to briefly address the neuropsychology of trauma – bear with me. Many mention the ideal situation, which is that rape victims immediately report the crime to law enforcement and have a medical exam (rape kit) performed. These are logical steps one can and hopefully would take; however, brain scans of individuals recalling trauma have shown the portions of the brain most involved with logic and decision-making tend to be completely bypassed. The left frontal cortex, which I promise you want involved in any wise decisions, appears inactive, and during trauma, we (humans) tend to make decisions for immediate self-preservation (i.e., not long-term). I could bore you with more, but that’s the gist of it.
  3. Rape serves the purpose of disempowering the rape victim. It’s long been established that rape is a crime about power, not sex. Any crime that specifically disempowers the victim makes it less likely that the victim will feel empowered to report said crime. So, rape is a little (a lot) different than say, having your car broken into. I’d hope we can agree that rape is a much more intimate crime than theft, as well, which again makes it less likely that the victim would publicly share the intimate nature of their violation.
  4. When someone’s car is broken into, society’s general response is, “Oh no!” When a woman is raped, society’s general response is, “Oh boy!” (as in “Here we go…”). This response is intensified if the alleged rapist is a popular or highly regarded member of society; thus, the response to the alleged victim is much less supportive and much more blaming. Unfortunately, fear of not being believed is one of the top reasons rape victims don’t disclose. Even within that fear, there are complex variables that make it even less likely that a rape victim would come forward. For example, sexual arousal during the assault, which carries even more stigma, is the reason many victims fear they’d not be believed and the reason many in society don’t believe men can be raped by women (despite men being raped more than women in the U.S., but that’s for another discussion).
  5. I want to also address how surprised people often are when there’s an “avalanche” of victims/survivors coming forward and/or going public after someone else tells his/her story of being raped and/or it becomes a more mainstream story. From a psychological and common sense standpoint, there is strength in numbers. As we see others share their truths, we’re strengthened in our conviction and courage to share, even if it comes with the public ridicule and scorn these women (accusing Bill Cosby) are now facing.

Finally, I want to leave you with the questions I originally asked: Why do we cast a negative light on alleged rape victims possibly having “an agenda” for why they came forward? Have you considered how many thousands of dollars sexual assault costs victims in medical bills and mental health services alone? Never mind decreased productivity due to depression, anxiety, and other trauma-related symptoms. Of similar impact is the relational distress and dysfunction resulting from sexual assault. I’d say an agenda is quite fitting, whether seeking financial compensation, public/private apology or admittance, or legal recourse. This article originally posted on Adjusted Sails.

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National Sexual Assault Hotline (USA): 1-800-656-HOPE (online hotline: CLICK HERE)

Dee Knight

Dee Knight is a wife, mother, and clinical psychologist who is passionate about seeing brokenness restored. She earned her doctorate in clinical neuropsychology, which she uses to minister to trauma survivors and those experiencing relational distress. Dr. Knight is an author and international speaker who has served her community for over a decade through Christ-centered psychotherapy, healing conferences, and support groups. Connect with her via the social media handle @DrDeeKnight

This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. This is a great article. However it does not answer some of what is actually behind the question people wonder when they ask , “Why is this person coming forward now?” I did not see what the author of this article address why coming forward is a motivation when the legal system cannot administer justice …. In the case of Bill Cosby as an example are all of these women coming forward with their stories with the hope that his personal losses will create a type of vengence to get their own justice outside of the courts?? How are they healed or helped or empowered simply by telling people what they say happened when the alleged perp (alleged because all we have is he said, she said) has no recourse for defending themselves in a society where you are assumed guilty before innocent? What is in it for the victim to come out years later when nothing can be done for the victim penalty and nothing can be done to stop the alleged perp? I didn’t find those answers and am interested in hearing why it should be applauded to try things in the court of public opinion?

    1. Hi Jason,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m a fan of innocent until proven guilty, which won’t apply to Bill Cosby because of the statute of limitations. However, I disagree with your supposition that the alleged victims/survivors coming forward are attempting “to try things in the court of public opinion.” Often, the statute of limitations on rape is 7 years. I get why, but that’s simply not nearly long enough to expect a person to just get over the intense shame I referenced above. Often people don’t even seek counseling within that time frame because most people don’t seek counseling until relationships and resources (jobs, school, etc.) are compromised – meaning, after they bump around through life and realize that what they thought they’d get over with willpower is still causing significant distress.

    2. Finally, Jason, your question is similar to another I’ve heard repeatedly, which is: why, if the alleged assault is so shameful, would one choose to come forward on an international platform where the whole world can see them, know their name, etc. From the perspective of a survivor, it’s freeing to take control over the story that once held you bound by shame. It’s empowering to share boldly when secrecy is what once held you captive. Shame can ONLY exist in silence. When we speak, shame is silenced. The more people bear witness to that pain, the less shame we carry alone. So, you see, it’s not about seeking vengeance so much as it’s about embracing freedom. I think we still have a long way to go as a society, because it’s not really the ACT of these women coming forward, but our preconceived notions of why they’re doing it. Let me know any other questions; I don’t know everything, but I’m happy to answer as much as I can.

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