A New Hashtag, #WhyIDidntReport, Has Emerged to Combat Stigma Around Sexual Assault

A New Hashtag, #WhyIDidntReport, Has Emerged to Combat Stigma Around Sexual Assault

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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.

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.

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.

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.

What do you think of #WhyIDidntReport? Do you have a story of not reporting sexual assault?

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