By Katie Feifer
Our colleague Roger Canaff has hit the nail on the head again with his commentary on “delayed reporting” of sexual assault crimes and what it really means. Matt Sandusky’s “Delayed Report” and What it Really Means « Roger Canaff
In the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky trial, when the defense tried to cast doubt on the veracity of Sandusky’s victims' accounts of long-ago sexual assaults, Canaff correctly points out that most victims of sexual assault who do report the crime (and that’s a minority of victims) do so after some time has passed. They stay silent for various reasons – fear of being blamed, of friends’ and families’ reactions, needing time to deal with the shock and trauma they experienced. And when they do report the crime, their reports are triggered by something – an event, a stressor, a circumstance in their lives.
We will reflect the reality of sexual violence more accurately once we stop using the inaccurate and un-nuanced phrase “delayed report” and start using “triggered reports” to describe the claims of those who finally (and bravely) come forward to speak about the violence perpetrated against them.
We all need to readjust our thinking to acknowledge that the norm in sexual assault cases is for victims to remain silent for a time or forever, especially when the perpetrator is someone known to them – the vast majority of cases. And our laws and policies need to reflect that as well. So we hope that Pennsylvania will finally take the leap into the 21st century and get rid of the jury instruction that allows jurors to potentially discount the validity of accusations of sexual assault because the “ordinary” person would make a prompt outcry.
As Canaff writes, “Few places are lonelier than the heart of a survivor living with sexual abuse, or having been the victim of a sexual attack, who feels he or she can’t reveal it. The struggle is titanic, and usually the decision is made to simply bear the abuse and move on. Again, this is changing, but slowly. And survivors who decide to remain silent are blameless for it and should never be judged. But when a trigger finally does compel a survivor to speak out, the mere fact of a delay in the interim should not cast doubt on it.”