Why Do Some People Stay Silent About Abuse?

Sexual assault is a highly traumatic experience that affects every survivor differently. The response that someone has to being sexually assaulted or abused can depend on the age of the victim, the severity of the crime, the relationship between the abuser and the abused, the victim’s available support system, and more. Read on to learn why some people stay quiet about sexual assault – and what to do if you suspect someone in your life is being abused.

The Psychology of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a widely underreported crime. Abuse survivors who choose not to come forward, report abuse or tell their stories are known as “silent victims.” Assault survivors may have many reasons for their silence, including:

  • Extreme emotional or psychological trauma that is too difficult to face.
  • Feelings of guilt, shame or embarrassment.
  • The feeling that the victim was somehow responsible for the abuse.
  • No recollection of the traumatic experience (blocked-out memories).
  • A lack of recognition of the crime.
  • Downplaying the abuse or not considering the event as abuse.
  • The assumption that no one will believe the victim.
  • Fear of retaliation by the abuser (fear for the victim’s safety).
  • Fear of punishment.
  • Fear for their children or loved ones.
  • Threats, intimidation or blackmail by the abuser.
  • Isolation from others – no support system, safe space or help available.
  • Still in a relationship with the abuser or assailant.
  • No financial support to leave the abuser.

 Many of these reasons are psychological. An abuse victim may have suffered such a mental or emotional trauma that it renders the victim silent for many years. In other cases, a victim may simply be waiting for someone to notice signs of abuse and offer assistance. 

How Can You Detect Sexual Assault?

It is important to learn the potential signs of this crime in those around you to detect abuse even before it’s reported by the victim. Although these signs can change from person to person, they often include withdrawal from others, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares or trouble sleeping, sudden changes in weight or appearance, fear of a certain place or person, physical injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, and suicidal tendencies.

If you have concerns about a potential case of sexual abuse or assault, let your loved one lead the conversation. Ask questions, but don’t pry or force the victim to answer. Show the victim that you are offering a safe, friendly space where he or she can discuss the incident or not discuss it – whatever makes the victim the most comfortable.

Pressuring survivors to take action and report abuse before they’re ready can be dangerous and result in more harm than good to the survivor, such as retaliation by the abuser or suicide. Support your loved one by letting him or her know that you are there to listen and help however he or she sees fit. Then, gently suggest solutions and resources.

How Long Do You Have to File a Sexual Assault Claim in Kansas?

In Kansas, criminal charges can be brought against someone for rape at any time – even decades after the incident. There is no statute of limitations (time limit) for rape and aggravated criminal sodomy. For other sexually violent crimes, criminal charges can be brought for 10 years after the victim’s 18th birthday or date of the crime or 1 year after the suspect’s identity is determined through DNA testing (whichever is later). A civil lawsuit for sexual assault, however, must be brought within 3 years of a child victim turning 18 or an adult victim discovering the abuse.

Although sexual assault survivors may choose to stay quiet, many eventually wish to tell their stories and see justice brought against perpetrators. If you have experienced sexual assault, know that it is not your fault, and that help is available. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member or national hotline that offers confidential support 24/7. Telling someone is the first step toward regaining control of your life – and holding the abuser accountable.

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