Why Do Some Sexual Abuse Victims Stay Silent?
Sexual abuse is incredibly tragic, but what’s worse is that many victims are reluctant to come forward and speak about their trauma.
If you’ve never suffered from sexual abuse, it can be difficult to understand why someone would choose to not speak out against their attacker.
In reality, there are many reasons why a sexual abuse victim may choose to remain silent. Whether they fear for their safety or don’t recognize what’s happened to them, sometimes saying nothing feels like their only option.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most common reasons why a sexual abuse victim would choose to not say anything about what happened to them.
Fear of Not Being Listened To
One of the saddest reasons for a silent victim is that they feel like they won’t be listened to. Even worse, this may be true depending on their situation.
The circumstances of their incident can make it difficult to remember exactly what happened. They may have been drugged or kept unconscious.
If this is the case, their memory will be hazy and important details can be forgotten. Imagine trying to tell someone a story that you can only remember bits and pieces of. They’ll likely have a hard time following along, let alone believing you.
Furthermore, an abuse victim’s attacker might be an esteemed member of the community. Picture someone like a college football star or a politician.
With either situation, a victim may feel that the police won’t believe them because they just want money or attention. There’s also the possibility that the incident will get covered up.
Regardless of what happened, the prospect of opening up about trauma and not being listened to is horrifying for many sexual abuse victims.
Harm to Reputation
Another significant cause for remaining quiet is the possibility of harm to their reputation.
This might be harder to picture, but the scenario of an actor and a movie producer fits the bill. If an actor speaks out against their attacker (the movie producer), then there’s the risk of not only losing their role in that film but also for not being cast for any other roles in the future. In essence, they’ll be blacklisted for talking about their abuse.
This also plays out in the real world. Anytime there’s an abuser in a position of power, the victim may stay silent to keep their job or maintain working relationships with clients.
The simple act of speaking out about abuse can make someone be viewed in a negative light. This is completely unfair and not always true depending on the field, but some associates will feel uncomfortable continuing to work with an abuse victim.
As unjust as it is, a victim’s reputation is another reason they may choose not to speak about what happened.
Then there’s the threat of being retaliated against.
Many sexual abuse victims are threatened by their attackers. Retaliation, like losing a job or promotion is one form, but there are also physical threats.
An attacker may coerce a victim into staying silent by threatening to physically harm them or their children. Paired with the fact that they were already sexually assaulted by their attacker, they feel that the likelihood of physical violence is high.
If a sexual abuse victim tries to speak out and their attacker isn’t arrested, then this creates an incredibly dangerous situation for them. Now their abuser will know that the victim violated their ultimatum, which will terrify the victim. It may feel safer to say nothing at all to prevent any further harm.
In actuality, it creates an environment where an abuser has absolute control. This can make it easy for them to continue abusing a victim without any risk of repercussions.
Any sexual abuse victim will aim to avoid further abuse, so staying silent feels like a way for them to do that.
Abuse Isn’t Realized
One final reason why a victim may not speak out is that they don’t understand what happened to them constitutes as abuse.
This is particularly relevant for younger victims. A family member may groom a victim into thinking that the abuse is normal and nothing problematic.
As a result, a victim may genuinely not know that they’re being abused. They may not like what’s happening, but they don’t know that it’s wrong.
Furthermore, sexual abuse can be perpetuated in subtle ways. A victim may believe that something like groping, sexual comments, or quid pro quo favors are too minor to constitute as abuse.
In either situation, you have a victim that doesn’t even realize they’re being abused. This is incredibly unfortunate and leaves them vulnerable to future abuse.
If a sexual abuse victim doesn’t understand what’s happening, then they certainly won’t know to say anything about it.
Many sexual abuse victims choose not to speak about their trauma because of fear.
There’s the possibility of not being believed or taken seriously, harm to their professional reputation, retaliation from their attacker, and they may not know that what happened to them is abuse.
While there are several reasons why victims choose to say silent, failing to say anything places them in great danger. Their attacker is free to continue abusing them and potentially other women, too.
As scary as it may be, victims need to speak up about their trauma to move forward with their life. It’s the only way of ensuring their safety and helping to keep other women safe.
Nobody deserves to be a victim of sexual abuse and the cycle needs to stop. Law enforcement must always take victims seriously and do their best to place a perpetrator behind bars. This would make it easier for women to call out their abuser, knowing that their words will be respected.