Victims Face Steep Barriers to Reporting Sexual Abuse

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Psychological barriers often inhibit the reporting of sexual abuse, according to Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children’s Alliance. She tells Reveal that it’s not unusual for victims to come forward many months or even years after an incident. Bridgette Stumpf of the Network for Victim Recovery of DC says barriers to reporting largely depend on the circumstances surrounding the abuse. Fear, shame, guilt and conflict may discourage victims from coming forward if sexual violence was committed by someone with whom they have a significant relationship.

Huizar and Stumpf have seen an increase in “conversion reporting,” when someone who did not disclose abuse initially later changes his or her mind and reports it to law enforcement. Stumpf says the presence of an advocate or crime victim rights attorney can encourage victims to come forward. Huizar attributes an increase in reporting years afterward to a reduction in the stigma of being a sexual victim, citing the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts abuse scandals.

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