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Why Sexual Abuse Survivors Are Afraid to Speak Up

It can be difficult for someone who has never endured sexual abuse to understand why a victim would stay silent. However, psychologists recognize the deeply traumatic experience of sexual abuse and the challenges of speaking up. Survivors can have incredibly intense and complex reactions to sexual abuse trauma – many of which get in the way of coming forward. 

Fear of Not Being Believed

Many survivors are afraid to tell their stories for fear of not being believed. Sadly, this fear is often validated by tales of victims reporting their abusers only to face ridicule and backlash from people who say they are lying. 

Victim-blaming and skepticism can interfere with a survivor’s desire to report a perpetrator – especially if the abuser is someone in a position of authority. A lack of trust in law enforcement authorities can also discourage a victim from going to the police for justice or protection.

Shame or Guilt

Feelings of guilt, shame or humiliation can effectively silence a survivor. It is common for victims to wonder if they could have or should have done something different to prevent the assault. They may blame themselves for the crime and feel too ashamed about the event to say anything. The belief that the victim is somehow responsible for the crime can make it difficult to come forward. In the event this happens to you, don’t blame yourself and contact our sexual abuse attorneys in Illinois and we will fight for your rights.

Fear of Retaliation

Perpetrators of sexual abuse, exploitation and assault may threaten their victims to force them into silence. They may threaten to physically injure victims or their loved ones. They may also threaten social consequences, such as publishing explicit photos or videos of victims on the internet if they say anything.

Dependency on the Abuser

Sexual abuse can exist in romantic, familial and caregiver relationships. In these complicated situations, a victim may feel a sense of love, dependency, or desire to protect his or her abuser. The victim may form a trauma bond with the perpetrator that feels impossible to break. The victim may also stay silent for fear of losing support, financial stability or shelter provided by the perpetrator.

Concerns About Damage to Reputation 

Survivors may hesitate to speak up due to apprehension of how they will be perceived after others know they were sexually abused. They have concerns regarding social stigmas, judgment from others or labels connected to sexual abuse. There may also be cultural and religious factors for the victim to consider, such as fear of shaming family or disappointing religious authorities. Unfortunately, this may happen to children as they can be more influenced by their peers at school. If this is the case, contact our Illinois school sexual assault attorneys.

Psychological Trauma

Sexual abuse can inflict significant mental, emotional and psychological trauma on a victim. How a survivor’s brain reacts to this trauma can ultimately prevent him or her from speaking up. This can occur in different ways; a child, for example, may block out the sexual abuse and fail to remember it until many years later. A survivor may mentally minimize the severity of the abuse or normalize it as a coping mechanism. These issues can create a barrier to speaking out or seeking help.

Sexual abuse survivors should always be approached with empathy, compassion for what they have been through, and the utmost respect for their decision of whether or not to report the abuse. If a survivor chooses to speak up, let them know that you support them and can help them access the assistance they need. Contact Mahoney Law Office for a free and confidential initial case review.