A New Hashtag, #WhyIDidntReport, Has Emerged to Combat Stigma Around Sexual Assault
Professor Christine Blasey Ford recently accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in 1982 while they attended high school. At the time she was 15 and he was 17 years old. Kavanaugh has denied the accusation against him, but many people — including U.S. President Donald Trump (himself an accused sexual assaulter) — have publicly criticized Ford for not reporting the alleged sexual assault to the police when it first happened. In response, Twitter users have begun using the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport, once again showing the invaluable power of awareness-raising hashtags in the social media age.
Since the hashtag began going viral, numerous women on Twitter have shared their brief stories of #WhyIDidntReport. Fear, doubt, shame, public ridicule, disbelief by friends and police, threats and worries of having their own careers ruined are the most common reasons for not reporting sexual assault.
I did, it didn’t matter, I was dismissed, disparaged, & I still get blamed #WhyIDidntReport
— Daryl Hannah (@dhlovelife) September 21, 2018
He was a police officer. #WhyIDidntReport
— Thrifty (@Thrifty48617862) September 21, 2018
I was 19. With a terrifying look in his eyes, he pinned me down, grabbed both my wrists with 1 hand & tried to unbutton my pants with another. I kicked him as hard as I could in the crotch and ran out. He didn’t actually rape me so I thought “nothing” happened. #WhyIDidntReport
— Meredith Salenger (@MeredthSalenger) September 21, 2018
I was 8. And 9. And 10. I needed someone to report for me. Nobody would. I was told to hide it. That people would judge the family.
Now I judge the family.
— Christine Clarke 🌎 (@CCplusfour) September 21, 2018
I did report, but it was dismissed by the police. I know what it is like. I understand the shame and humiliation and why people don’t report. Women deserve to be treated with the dignity that is due to every human being. #WhyIDidntReport
— Janet Garrett (@Janet4OH) September 21, 2018
#WhyIDidntReport well, actually I did. I was bullied, I received death threats, people treated me with contempt for making a big deal out of something, I lost a lot of friends, and I wasn’t treated like a victim, at all. No one asked how I was doing, if I was ok, nothing.
— 🌞🌜 (@chingonashinobi) September 21, 2018
#WhyIDidntReport because at 16, I didn't even realize that it was a crime. I thought it was my fault, my situation. It wasn't. It was a crime.
— kathy (@KathysBookBlog) September 21, 2018
I was a sophomore in HS
I had convinced my parents I could handle dating at 15.5 yrs.
They knew the boy & his mother
My father would have killed him
I'd have been a pariah at school
He'd be cheered. I'd be a slut
I'd be grounded forever
I WAS 15.5 YEARS OLD#WhyIDidntReport
— really_polly (@really_polly) September 21, 2018
I’ve told this story before.
I was 19, woke up to a man standing over my bed, somehow fought him out of my apt. Called the police, identified a serial rapist in the neighborhood. The police busted me for crumbs of marijuana.
I had to get an attorney. #WhyIDidntReport
— AmyMaru ✨ (@AJDMaru) September 21, 2018
Shame, humiliation, threats, fear of a powerful man and family, desire to move forward and forget, taunting by peers…these are just a few reasons #WhyIDidntReport
— Educator (@Educator1028) September 21, 2018
A big reason why many people don’t bother reporting sexual assault is, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), because on average six out of 310 rapists are incarcerated for their crimes. That means a less-than-2% chance of your rapist facing justice if you decide to press charges.
Furthermore, what has happened with Prof. Ford has shown the danger people face for reporting sexual assault. She herself has been subject to disbelief, harassment, public ridicule, doxxing and even death threats since going public with her claim.
And #WhyIDidntReport has also shown that it’s not just women who face stigma for reporting sexual assault.
I was afraid no one would help me, that I would get kicked out of my conservative Christian college, that I would lose everything I fought so hard to earn. My abuser knew this and used it to his advantage.#WhyIDidntReport
— Isaac Butler (@IsaacDButler) September 21, 2018
#WhyIDidntReport my sexual assault.
I was living in a time when someone who identified as a gay teenager would NOT be taken seriously by the police.
I believed that I would be mocked & ridiculed for being gay.
I also felt it was MY fault.
I didn't think they would believe me.
— Peter Morley (@morethanmySLE) September 21, 2018
I'm a guy and i wasn't even strong enough to fight my attacker. If 14 year old me wasn't strong enough imagine a much younger girl #WhyIDidntReport
— Saki Annette (@AnnetteSaki) September 21, 2018
Because I was scared
Because I was ashamed
Because I did not want to lose my job
Because I am traumatized
Because nobody will believe me
Because it wasn’t a big deal
Because I deserved it
Because I get anxiety
Because somebody may harm me again
— Danny Deraney (@DannyDeraney) September 21, 2018
Because, "it doesn't happen to boys," right? #WhyIDidntReport
— Gary: Immoderator™ 😺 (@immoderator) September 21, 2018
RAINN estimates that one in 33 men has been victimized by rape sometime in their lives. (That’s 3% of all men.) The organization also says male victims account for 10% of all reported rapes, but other studies put that percentage much higher.
A 2015 report from The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) said 40.2% of gay
men, 47.4% of bisexual men and 20.8% of heterosexual men will report sexual violence other than rape sometime during their lifetimes. In 80% of all cases, the survivors know their attackers.
Societal pressure on men to be “strong” may keep victims from seeking help. But even if they do seek help, there’s usually less of a support system available to gay victims, especially if one or both partners is not fully out. Some police see gay sex as a joke or assume men should be able to defend themselves against such assaults. Shelters and counseling also may not be available to queer men who have been sexually assaulted.
#WhyIDidntReport shows the power of “hashtag activism”
#WhyIDidntReport seems to be the latest evolution of the #MeToo hashtag, which initially sought to highlight women’s experiences with sexual assault. These and other political hashtags allow social media users to quickly draw attention to widespread problems under the banner of a single hashtag.
#BlackLivesMatter remains one of the most widely used social movement hashtags (with nearly 10 million uses in 2016 alone), helping draw attention to police brutality against Black people.
In 2014, after video surfaced of NFL player Ray Rice punching his fiancée, survivors of domestic abuse used #WhyIStayed to share their stories of feeling trapped in abusive relationships.