Statement of APA President Regarding the Science Behind Why Women May Not Report Sexual Assault

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In the wake of the past week’s events and the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, you may be feeling triggered. I wanted to take a moment to remind you that there are many people out there who believe survivors and will not attack a survivor for reporting or processing a prior sexual assault. Here is a statement from American Psychological Association’s president, Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD:

“Sexual assault is likely the most under-reported crime in the United States. About two-thirds of female sexual assault victims do not report to the police, and many victims do not tell anyone. Sexual assault is a terrifying and humiliating experience. Women choose not to report for a variety of reasons — fear for their safety, being in shock, fear of not being believed, feeling embarrassed or ashamed, or expecting to be blamed.  

“A lack of reporting does not mean an assault or attempted assault did not happen or is exaggerated. Research demonstrates that false claims of sexual assault are very low — between 2 and 7 percent. This tells us that far more women are assaulted and don’t report than women who make false claims.”

Daniel noted that Ford’s alleged assault is reported to have occurred when she was 15 — the developmental stage of exploring and determining one’s identity, a time when many teenagers do not feel comfortable discussing any sexual issues with their parents, let alone an assault.

“While memory of past day-to-day events is often poor, research has shown that memory of traumatic events is stored differently in the brain,” according to Daniel. “Some memories are so emotionally charged that they become frozen in time, and some particulars can be recalled in excruciating detail, as if the event just occurred, while others may be forgotten. The American Psychological Association is concerned that public statements questioning the integrity of Dr. Ford and the veracity of her allegation due to her prior lack of reporting will make it even more likely that other sexual assault victims do not report their experiences.”

For the full text, please visit the APA website.

If you are struggling right now, please take care of yourself by treating yourself with gentleness and understanding, by connecting with validating people in your life, and by using any grounding and resourcing skills that you have.

You are also invited to reach out to me for therapy or to contact me for the names of other therapists who take a supportive, non-judgmental, resilience-based stance when supporting survivors of sexual assault.

I am lucky to work with a community of professionals who believe survivors. We are educated about the myriad ways that the legacy of sexual trauma can present. We know that there are reasons why you may not have reported or spoken about your experiences. We understand that, due to the nature of how traumatic memory is stored, your memories may not be complete, or may be overwhelming to access and share. We can help you further understand the biological, emotional, cognitive and existential impact that trauma has had on you. And we can help you begin to find relief from the painful aspects of that impact.

Posting with love and hope. You are not alone.