Many victims of sexual assault do not report these crimes to family, school officials or police, and a new report on the normalization of sexual violence among young girls and women offers several insights into why this is; it also functions as a pretty harrowing primer on rape culture and its consequences.
Researchers at Marquette University analyzed forensic interviews with 100 young people between the ages of 3 and 17, many of whom spoke candidly about their daily experiences of sexual violence and harassment.
According to sociologist Heather Hlavka, many of the young people she interviewed viewed these incidents as a normal part of life. One interview subject told researchers, “They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean … I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.”
According to a release on the report, there are several of the reasons why young women do not come forward about the abuse they experience, including a belief that men “can’t help it” and a fear of being labeled a “whore”:
- Girls believe the myth that men can’t help it. The girls interviewed described men as unable to control their sexual desires, often framing men as the sexual aggressors and women as the gatekeepers of sexual activity. They perceived everyday harassment and abuse as normal male behavior, and as something to endure, ignore, or maneuver around.
- Many of the girls said that they didn’t report the incident because they didn’t want to make a “big deal” of their experiences. They doubted if anything outside of forcible heterosexual intercourse counted as an offense or rape.
- Lack of reporting may be linked to trust in authority figures. According to Hlavka, the girls seem to have internalized their position in a male-dominated, sexual context and likely assumed authority figures would also view them as “bad girls” who prompted the assault.
- Hlavka found that girls don’t support other girls when they report sexual violence. The young women expressed fear that they would be labeled as a “whore” or “slut,” or accused of exaggeration or lying by both authority figures and their peers, decreasing their likelihood of reporting sexual abuse.