Section 2: Understanding Sexual Assault from a Victim’s Perspective
4 Hours, 40 Minutes

(20 minutes)

(2 minutes)

Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. As we will discuss later, the majority of known victims are minors23, but sexual assault also occurs against adults of all ages, from young adults to senior citizens. Because of the differences in developmental capacity, experience, maturity, and expectations from others, adults and children can be expected to respond differently to sexual assault and to have different needs from service providers and from us. In these next sections, we will be talking first about the impact of sexual assault on adults and then about the impact of sexual assault on children. We will conclude with information about intra–familial sexual assault, which can involve both adults and children but which has unique dynamics that are important to explore.

As we discuss the impact of sexual assault on victims, we hope one thing will become clear: experiencing a sexual assault can affect the way victims, young and old, interact with their entire world, not just with the perpetrator of the assault.

Understanding how victims react to sexual assault will enhance your interactions with the victims with whom you come into contact in supervising or treating an offender. It will help you interpret information about the victim(s) given to you by the offender, which in turn can provide a basis for sound supervision decisions. Developing competency on victim impact issues enhances your efficacy in protecting victims, supervising offenders, and creating productive and mutually beneficial relationships with the victim advocacy community.

Barriers to Disclosure
(18 minutes)

Note: Allow the audience to name as many reasons for non-reporting as they can. Write their answers on a flipchart or on a blank overhead slide. Watch out for attitudes that attempt to blame victims for the sexual assault or for their fear of reporting.

Possible answers include:

After the audience has brainstormed answers for several minutes, put up Slide #7: Non– or Delayed Reporting.

Use SlideUse Slide #8: Fears Resulting in Non– or Delayed Reporting

Slide 8
Enlarge Slide 8

We mentioned earlier that very few victims report the assault or abuse to the authorities. In fact, the majority of victims do not report their experiences to anyone, including families, friends, law enforcement, or medical personnel. Those that do report often wait anywhere from days to years to do so.

What are some of the reasons a victim may not report a sexual assault?

Because these reasons for non– or delayed reporting can impact your interactions with victims in the course of supervising offenders, it’s important to be aware of them and to keep them in mind when you are working with victims and their advocates.

It is also important to remember that the victims that you come into contact with overcame these and other obstacles to report and follow up on the prosecution of the crime. Their experience with the criminal justice system may have been better or worse than they imagined. They may have gone into it knowing what they would encounter, or with a great deal of ignorance or innocence. They may be shocked by what they experienced, or pleasantly surprised. Their prior experience with the system will have a direct impact on how they experience their contact with you.

Reasons for Non–reporting, Delayed Reporting & Withdrawal of Complaints

Fear is a big issue for victims of sexual assault. The fears about the sexual assault that influence a victim’s reluctance to tell others, especially law enforcement authorities, include:

Use SlideUse Slide #9: Other Reasons for Non– or Delayed Reporting

Slide 9
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Other factors that affect disclosure may include:

The myths we identified earlier may also directly affect a victim’s willingness to come forward. Victims risk significant and possibly permanent changes in their relationships with important people in their lives when they disclose sexual victimization. If friends or family believe the myths about sexual assault, they may blame, rather than support, the victim. It is not surprising, then, that sexual assaults are reported rather infrequently.

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