Guest column by Danielle Shorr, junior creative writing major
It’s been years and I still haven’t found a way to tell my mother his name. Partially because I’m not sure I want to, partially because she doesn’t ask anymore, partially because I know that when I do, it will become real.
I’d be 18 again and more helpless than I ever intended to be. I am the girl who feels unstoppable, brave, conscious of things like this but unable to put a face to the experience. There’s no preparation for when that face becomes yours.
The topic of how sexual assault should be reported is always heavily debated. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, only 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police, meaning about two out of three go unreported. Even more disheartening, the vast majority of perpetrators will not go to jail or prison. The reality of justice is weak, and the downfalls of reporting can sometimes be devastating.
When a video titled “Why I didn’t report” appears on my newsfeed, I unintentionally revisit thinking about it. I think of the thousands of rape kits that remain untouched for decades. I think of how terrifying it must be to relive your trauma over and over, to have to spell it out to strangers – in a hospital gown, in a police station, in a courtroom. I think of myself, my own guilt, the impact of my decision to stay unspoken. What if I wasn’t the only one? What if I wasn’t the last?
If you were to ask me why I didn’t report, I could give you more than a few reasons. I knew the situation itself would be contested. When I called my friend immediately after, his words prompted my hesitance. Intentional or not, his advice that I should have been more careful sunk deep the minute I heard it. I internalized it. I woke up the next morning in pieces, but still alive.
The perpetrator was not a stranger. He knew my family. My family knew him. I knew his family, their success and their influence. I had no proof or evidence. Any bit of it had washed off with the three showers that I took after he left. All I had was the words of my own mouth, which I buried deep into my thoughts for two years until I was finally forced to unfold it for my own survival.
I didn’t report because there was never really an option to. No witnesses, just my frequent inability to sleep and overwhelming anxiety. I didn’t report because at 18, I didn’t have the words to call it what it was. All I had was the lingering memory of what happened, and the obstacles that would follow me around afterward.
Today, I still am unsure of how to approach the topic. I know too many women with similar stories, in both experience and silence. I have sat in rooms full of faces wearing the same trauma. I have spoken to many who have made me feel less alone with their admissions. I have witnessed incredibly publicized cases fail to find justice. I’ve become familiar with how this country handles sexual assault in general, its lack of empathy for victims, yet empathy for the perpetrators. I’m not sure I would have benefitted from the effort at all. But the truth remains that I will never know myself. The subject of what might have happened had I reported is a guessing game, one that I am more content with being unsure of, for the risk of taking it may have resulted in irreparable damage greater than what already was.