Will Sex Assault Victims ‘Go Back Into the Shadows’?

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The Senate hearing on allegations that Brett Kavanaugh committed sexual assault as a teenager provoked a flood of social media posts from women on their anguished decisions about reporting such assaults. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and the ferocious backlash against accuser Christine Blasey Ford has fueled worries among sexual assault survivors, advocates and prosecutors of a longer-term chilling effect on women’s willingness to report, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports. “This is really damaging. I feel like some women will go back into the shadows and not come forward,” said Michelle Kelty of the Kentucky Attorney General Survivor’s Council, who saw Ford endure death threats and ridicule from President Trump. “Reporting is important. That’s the only way we’re going to stop these guys and say it’s not OK.”

Elizabeth Wessels-Martin of the Center for Women and Families in Louisville said victims’ most common fears — ‘If I report it, will I be retaliated against? Will anyone believe me?” — were laid bare in the hearings in a way that could dissuade victims from reporting. “We’re all worried,” said Kristi Gray, a Louisville sex crimes prosecutor. “If people feel (Ford) was not believed, I think it’s much harder for them to want to come forward and disclose.” Sexual assault survivors and their advocates say sex assault is already vastly underreported. An estimated one-third of sexual assaults nationally are reported to police, compared to about two-thirds of robberies, said Brad Campbell, a University of Louisville criminologist. That can be attributed to a range of factors, from fears of stigma or retaliation to traumatic investigations or a life turned upside down, advocates said. “You may put your relationships at risk. Your job, your housing,” said one victim said. “It’s like being assaulted twice.” Survivors must weigh the difficulties of pursuing charges when there is no corroborating witnesses or DNA evidence.

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