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How Do You Encourage Sexual Abuse Victims To Come Forward?
December 14, 2016

This week, we have a special guest post from Brian Kent, an attorney who specializes in prosecuting cases involving sexual abuse. We’re happy to provide a space for him to share his experience and expertise, and hope that you will find this piece helpful and informative in encouraging you or someone you know who might be a victim of sexual abuse to come forward.

Sexual assault is more common than many might think, and it is especially common among girls and women. While the majority of victims are usually women, men can also face assault, and it is important to be clear that sexual abuse is any form of non-consensual sexual contact, including: sexual crimes like rape, child molestation, and incest.

Sexual Abuse Key Statistics

As stated on my website, sexual abuse is an act of power and violence. It is an act whereby a person of authority uses the trust they have with others to coerce them into involuntary and unwanted sexual acts. What this means is that most survivors know the offenders, but 60% of the crimes are not reported to the police. Further statistics reveal that:

  • 90% of all rapes are committed against women
  • 1 in 5 girls experience sexual abuse before reaching the age of 18
  • Two-thirds of victims aged 18 to 29 have a past relationship with the perpetrator
  • 9  out of 10 victims (among college women) know the person who abused them
  • An intimate lifetime partner abuses 34% of victims through sexual coercion

As the statistics indicate, most victims know their perpetrator. The offender may even be a person widely known, trusted, and respected by family and friends, thus compounding the layers of betrayal and complicating relationships in the aftermath of allegations of abuse. Thus, the majority of victims do not report the crimes simply because:

  • 13% believe that the police would do nothing to help
  • 20% fear retaliation
  • 13% deem it as a personal issue
  • 7% do not want to get the offender in trouble
  • 2% think the police cannot do anything to help

Furthermore, other fears that sexual assault victims face include:

  • Victim blaming

When victims know that the society can blame them for the aggression, it becomes difficult for them to come forward and report the crime.

  • The myth of the lie

Sexual abuse survivors usually fear that if they were to report the crime, no one will believe them. For instance, male victims know that there is a ubiquitous belief that women don’t particularly rape men. On the other hand, women might think that reporting the assault runs them the risk of being branded a regretful slut or malicious liar.

How To Help Someone Come Forward

Despite the fact that reporting sexual abuse and the subsequent civil or criminal process is an intimidating and frightening experience, there are things you can do to inspire sexual abuse survivors to come forward. Encouraging phrases and words can relieve fears of judgment and show support for the victim. Consider phrases like:

  • It’s not your fault. Remind the victim that s/he is not to blame for what happened.
  • I’m sorry this happened to you. Show sympathy by acknowledging that the experience has affected the survivor’s life.
  • You aren’t alone. Show the victim that you’re there for them and are willing to listen to their predicament.
  • I believe you. It’s extremely challenging for the survivors to come forth and share their experience. Therefore, your job is to support them and remove all the doubts.

Other ways of encouraging sexual abuse victims to report the crime include:

  • Forming healthy communities and networks.
  • Law enforcement departments should adopt survivor-driven programs.

Legal Options For Survivors

Coming forward can also mean a need for justice for the survivor of abuse. Just as any other crime, sexual abuse victims have a number of rights under the Crime Victim’s Rights Act in 2004. Some rights in the act include:

  • The right to be protected from the defendant
  • The right to be notified of a court or parole proceeding and when the suspect is released
  • The right to be treated with parity and with respect for the survivor’s privacy and dignity

Another legal option is filing a civil lawsuit where the survivor sues the perpetrator for personal damages. Criminal restitution is also an avenue that the criminal justice system uses to compensate sexual abuse victims, by ordering the defendant to cater for those expenses related directly to the crime. Immediate therapy sessions and medical expenses might be covered. The restitution also covers lost wages, damaged property, criminal justice process expenses, and health insurance deductibles. In addition, there is the criminal injuries compensation fund. Just like insurance companies, survivors file injury compensation fund claims and wait for the claim to be denied or approved.

As you can see there are several legal options are available for survivors. Nevertheless, the benefits of supporting these survivors cannot be overstated. Therefore, it is important to encourage, support, and help the victims reduce the pain of this traumatizing experience.


Brian Kent is a partner at Laffey, Bucci & Kent Law Firm. He graduated with a law degree from Philadelphia’s Temple University, and served as a criminal prosecutor in the Sex Crimes Unit of Montgomery County’s District Attorney’s Office.

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