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KATIE ZERR: Facts show we have a perception problem

When will Americans face the fact that we have a problem with sexual abuse and the manner in which it is treated?
A very uncomfortable situation at a family gathering right at the start of the “Me Too Movement” has been bothering me since that time. A large group had gathered for a meal with different conversations going on at the same time. A male in the group said he didn’t believe that all of the women joining the #MeToo on social media had actually been sexually assaulted. The comment triggered a very loud and angry response from me. It stopped the other conversations as I set him straight.
The problem is, as I found out, many people actually believe people who have no education in the subject over those who actually have doctorate degrees.
Many people believe false reporting runs rampant in this country and that women who report sexual abuse and assault are trying to get back at a man by destroying his career. This kind of thinking has been proven false time and time again by scientific studies. I referenced several including from Stanford University and the FBI to get information used here.
To date, research finds that the prevalence of false reporting is between 2 percent and 10 percent. The FBI has put the number of “unfounded” rapes (those determined to be false after investigation) at 8 percent. The average is about 4 percent.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, misconceptions about sexual violence and inconsistencies about the way reports are classified impacts understanding of a false allegation. What may be typical behavior for a sexual assault victim is commonly perceived as being contrived, inconsistent or untrue. These beliefs and biases help explain why the rate of false allegations tends to be inflated and why many people inaccurately believe false reports are commonplace.
According to factual information, an estimated 63 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police. When survivors come forward, many face scrutiny or encounter barriers. For example, when an assault is reported, survivors may feel that their victimization is distorted through the process of investigation. Those who mock, refuse to listen or push to suppress a victim’s statements or memories are only perpetuating these problems.
Studies show victims may struggle to remember precise details of the assault or experience negative feelings when doing so.
According to Psychology Today, some victims fear retaliation, feel embarrassed and fear further humiliation if he or she contact the police. Some believe the incident to be a private or family (if the perpetrator is a relative) matter. They want to avoid the stigma of being labeled a victim. They may have been under the influence of alcohol at the time and they think they may be partly responsible.
Law enforcement training in sexual assault investigations in the past several decades has improved, but there are still parts of this country where the training is lax and officers rely on archaic information and social attitudes, according to studies.
Research shows that rates of false reporting are frequently inflated, in part because of the misunderstanding of sexual assault. Misconceptions about false reporting rates have direct, negative consequences and can contribute to why many victims don’t report sexual assaults
To back up the above information, the following are statistics based in research and studies:
• Rape is the most under-reported crime; 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.
• In the U.S., one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives and one in three women and one in six men experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.
• Almost half (49.5 percent) of multiracial women and over 45 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native women were subjected to some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.
• Fifty-one percent of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and nearly 49 percent by an acquaintance.
• Ninety-one percent of victims of rape and sexual assault are female, and nine percent are male.
• One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old and 30 percent of women were between the ages of 11 and 17 at the time of their first completed rape.
• Only 12 percent of child sexual abuse is ever reported to the authorities.
We have a problem with sexual assault in this country. We have a problem here in our community. Officers’ hands are tied when victims of reported sexual assaults either recant after being bullied by family members or acquaintances of the accused or fail to follow through after the initial report. It happens here more often then we like to admit.
I truly believe that any individual who is falsely accused of sexual abuse or any other crime is the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice.
I also strongly believe that if we continue to listen to those who speak without factual information on which they base arguments, we will continue to perpetuate the myths that the problem does not lie with those who perpetrate but with the people who are harmed.
– Katie Zerr –