There are all sorts of reasons why women who report sexual misconduct, from unwanted advances by their bosses to groping or forced sex acts, are not believed, and with a steady drumbeat of new reports making headlines, the nation is hearing a lot of them. Some of the most commonly raised causes for doubt, like a long delay in reporting or a foggy recall of events, are the very hallmarks that experts say they would expect to see after a sexual assault, the New York Times reports. “There’s something really unique about sexual assault in the way we think about it, which is pretty upside down from the way it actually operates,” said Kimberly Lonsway, a psychologist who conducts law enforcement training on sexual assault for the group End Violence Against Women International. “In so many instances when there’s something that is characteristic of assault, it causes us to doubt it.”
Partly this is because of widespread misconceptions. The public and the police vastly overestimate the incidence of false reports. The most solid, case-by-case examinations say that only 5 to 7 percent of sexual assault reports are false. Responses to trauma that are often viewed as evidence of unreliability, such as paralysis or an inability to recall timelines, have been shown by neurobiological research to be both legitimate and common. When it comes to the most serious assaults, like rape, people imagine that they are committed by strangers who attack in a dark alley, and base their view of how victims should react on that idea, even though the vast majority of assaults occur between people who know one another. The Times examines misconceptions that come up again and again when assessing whether a victim’s account is true.