Many reasons why women don’t report sexual assault

Many reasons why women don't report sexual assault The last week has been a whirlwind of information, analysis, and eye-opening disclosure about the horrific acts of violence perpetrated against women by Jian Ghomeshi. It is normal for me to hear discus

The last week has been a whirlwind of information, analysis, and eye-opening disclosure about the horrific acts of violence perpetrated against women by Jian Ghomeshi.

It is normal for me to hear discussions of violence prevention in my work at the women’s centre, but suddenly I am hearing these conversations at the coffee shop, all over social media, and over breakfast at home.

This is not only incredibly encouraging, but also marks a unique opportunity.

Many women were assaulted. None, until recently, reported these crimes to the police. Sadly, this is not surprising. Only 10 per cent of sexualized assaults are reported to the police. Of that, charges are laid in only one-third of the cases. Of those who are charged, only half end up with a conviction.

As an educated, employed woman with supportive family and friends, some familiarity with my legal rights, and no past trauma or legacy of colonization to combat, I’m still not sure that I would report an incident of sexualized assault or domestic violence to the police.

So why aren’t women reporting? What’s not working?

As these women have identified, they feared the backlash they would face in the media, online, and with their peers if they went public. They knew it would be their word against Jian’s, and Jian’s word is backed with power, privilege, celebrity, and financial resources. They said it was a small circle in Toronto, so one can only imagine the reality that women in Yukon face.

This is the conversation we need to have. What are we missing as police officers, lawyers, judges, service providers? How can we change our institutions so that women feel safe coming forward to report these deliberate, strategic acts of violence?

How can we influence our family and friends so that we better support women who do disclose violence to us?

As a first step, let’s believe women. Let’s ask them what they need.

As a second step, let’s learn more. The 12 Days to End Violence will begin November 25. Take this opportunity to attend events, read some literature, and challenge your understanding of violence against women. Because it’s happening to one in four women. We better start responding in a better way.

Hillary Aitken

Program Coordinator

Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre