Uncovering Why Sex Crimes are Under-reported in the United States


Violent crime is a reality that contemporary society currently contends with. Sexual assault, in particular, is an appalling offense and considered one of the most atrocious deviant behaviors known to man. Legal, social, and administrative levels of society have responded promptly to this challenge by taking appropriate punitive measures which aim to dissuade potential offenders. The criminal justice system champions this response by handing out maximum sentences and publicly shaming perpetrators. Regrettably, sexual offenses continue to occur frequently and regularly remain unreported. Rape victims, typically traumatized by their experience, fail to report such incidences to relevant authorities. Victims are usually aware of the entire process, but would rather avoid it than face the offender and relive their experience during trial.

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Victims of sexual assault often choose to circumvent these lengthy and grueling proceedings by choosing to avoid reporting to relevant authorities.  Sex crimes have, therefore, been on a steady rise within the past three decades, a situation that is projected to worsen in the near future. Statistics provided by the federal government reveal a worrying trend that may portend a dreary future for criminal justice, particularly in the United States. It is currently estimated that 80 % of sex crimes go unreported, even with the vast resources provided by the Justice Department (Brennan Center for Justice, 2018).

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Survivors of sexual assault incidences increasingly avoid filing police reports, which is also why the actual statistics of the modern-day debacle remains a mystery to leading researchers. Although sex assault in the United States is a typical occurrence, victims of these heinous crimes do not seem to receive satisfactory justice from the Judicial System. Because of this fact, many victims choose to remain silent as opposed to coming forward and facing offenders. They suffer alone, experiencing shame, and utter humiliation in private.

 Why Sex Crimes are Under-reported in the United States

 Fear of retaliation is one of the primary reasons why victims of sexual assault fail to report such incidences. Sexual assault is a distressing experience that is often emotionally taxing for victims. Many strive to acknowledge the occurrence of the actual event, put it behind them, and move on with their lives.  Although part of the healing process involves reporting the said offense to relevant authorities, most victims fail to do so owing to a fear of retaliation.  In most cases, victims are usually aware of their attacker’s identity as individuals in their circle of associates. Close acquaintances have been known to take advantage of this nature of the relationship to abuse their victims. They usually obtain crucial data about their victims and use this information to coerce them into submission. In such a case, perpetrators use the nature of a relationship shared as a front, which allows them to get close to their victims and attack during precarious scenarios (Brownmiller, 2015). Victims of sexual assault whose violation occurs in this manner may fail to report due to a general fear of retaliation from perpetrators. Similarly, an attacker’s socio-economic status may also influence a victim’s decision whether or not to report. Victims are routinely compelled by such individuals to maintain their silence or suffer dire consequences. Often, perpetrators are influential members of society known for their deep pockets and authority, in addition to wielding significant influence. Even though the Victims Witness Program has expressed a willingness to safeguard victims of sexual assault during trial proceedings, they remain vulnerable to implacable attacks from offenders and other members of society (Walby & Olive, 2015). Many, therefore, regard silence as the only logical option, which is a prime reason why sex crimes remain unreported.

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 A general inadequacy of legal knowledge of actions that constitute rape has also been blamed for the high rate of unreported sex crimes across the United States. A majority of the victims have little or no knowledge of the legal system and how sexual assault is defined from a legal perspective. The legal framework often endeavors to delineate specifics in sexual assault to ensure that prevailing statutes present a clear definition of the offense. Nevertheless, victims still grapple with the description of sexual assault and whether or not specific incidents can be regarded as “real rape.” The hesitation that sets in during this stage influences their decision to file a report with the appropriate authorities tasked with addressing such matters.

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Furthermore, the situation is typically worsened by insufficient legal knowledge of federal laws applicable to a specific case. The criminal justice system has been in existence for a long epoch, which has allowed experts to refine best practices and applicable laws in particular circumstances. Their participation in the system is often meant to ensure that a comprehensive legal system is applied to assure victims, particularly those of sexual assault, of justice. Adherence to the penetration threshold as the only appropriate definition of rape has now been found to influence a victim’s decision to report cases of assault (Horvath & Brown, 2013, p. 79). Most remain silent due to a general lack of understanding of rape as a crime and its interpretation from a legal standpoint. Additionally, administrative failings in the criminal justice system may be to blame for a high number of sexual assault cases that remain unreported within the United States. Victims of rape who fail to physically resist due to fear occasioned by the actual scenario have customarily experienced difficulties defining their experience as sexual assault (Maier, 2014, p. 62). In particular, the criminal justice system rarely conducts regular awareness campaigns to improve society’s understanding of rape, which ultimately impacts an individual’s decision to report such cases.

 Poor treatment of survivors of sexual assault also serves as a chief reason why victims fail to report sexual assault cases. Rape and other forms of sexual assault represent grueling experiences capable of harming an individual’s mental wellbeing. Many remain emotionally scarred for years on end and usually struggle with symptoms of anxiety and depression related to this life-changing event. Yet, the criminal justice system rarely treats them with the dignity they deserve, which is why many opt to remain tightlipped regarding their experience given the fact that it may have transformed their lives negatively. An area of concern that has recently emerged regarding the criminal justice system and sexual assault is the nature of sentences handed out to perpetrators. Wealthy and broadly influential suspects often hire expensive seasoned attorneys who are experts in exploiting loopholes in the legal systems. Victims of sexual assault are typically unaware of constituents of rape charges under the law and may fail to record crucial details capable of influencing their case. Through a carefully planned trial, accusers put up a spirited defense, which leads to a conviction where a lenient sentence is eventually handed down. In essence, it is as though rape is being criminalized since victims of sexual assault are now treated as though they were the offenders (O’Donohue & Scheme, 2019, p. 724). Besides, a negative interaction with the criminal justice system ultimately discourages victims from filing reports. The process often begins with law enforcement officers who are tasked with making an original record of the report as described by the victim. Coupled with inadequate advocacy support, chances of getting justice through trail are reduced, which then sets a dangerous precedent (Spohn & Tellis, 2014, p. 33). Their insipid response to an event of such magnitude and lack of empathy puts off sensitive individuals. Also, ingrained fear of skepticism and re-traumatization dramatically reduces the chances that a victim of sexual assault will turn to relevant authorities for redress.

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The rise in unreported sex crimes in the United States is a contemporary debacle currently facing society. Victims are increasingly choosing to remain silent than take their chances with the criminal justice system. They report failing to receive satisfactory justice and avoid facing offenders at all costs as a strategy to avert shame and humiliation. The fear of retaliation, inadequate legal knowledge of actions that constitute rape, and the poor treatment of survivors are some of the significant reasons why cases of sexual assault are rarely reported in the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is capable of responding to this issue by laying out a clear framework with the primary objective of ensuring that victims of sexual assault are always assured of justice.

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