The Economic Reasons Why Rape Is Underreported

The decision to report rape or sexual assault is far from simple, and it goes beyond the emotional toll of having to constantly recount the story. There are serious financial deterrents to coming forward: Reporting can derail careers and education, and come with a hefty price tag.

In fact, our system is so stacked against survivors that it’s a wonder anyone speaks up. Here are a host of economic factors that deter rape victims from coming forward.

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1. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that rape victims incur, on average, $110,000 in costs.
This figure includes lost productivity, trauma treatment, and pain and suffering. And while the cost of criminal prosecution doesn’t fall to the survivor, she or he will need to find a lawyer should she or he wish to sue. Reporting turns out to be an economic minefield; for example, up until this year, people who reported rape at medical facilities could be charged for their rape kit in some states. While the fee was always reimbursed, many people might not have had adequate funds available, or were left to decide between providing evidence or buying next week’s groceries.

While victim’s assistance funds will help offset financial costs, they can’t cover the entire cost that comes with reporting. Jessica Yaffa, director of community education and engagement at Practical Recovery, notes that survivors may in fact be completely financially dependent on their abusers, and if the abusers are prosecuted their victims will be left without resources. Similarly, Jen H., a licensed counselor (who asked that I omit her last name to protect her clients’ confidentiality), says that her clients sometimes report that their rapist is their children’s caretaker and that “if he gets locked up, we can't live.”

"Reporting can derail careers and education, and come with a hefty price tag."  

2. If a survivor shares a home with her or his rapist, finding new housing is a significant issue.
Sarah J. Berg, interim director at The Phoenix Center at Auraria, told me that “[w]hether it happened in their home or not, many survivors struggle to feel safe after an assault,” and that the ability “to break their lease and find a new home that their rapist has never been in can be hugely important and, too frequently, hugely impractical financially.” And even if reporting does remove the abuser from the home, the fear of retaliation is enough to keep some people quiet, knowing they can’t afford to relocate.

While Berg says that the justice system typically removes and re-homes children and the elderly from sexually abusive environments, people who are being assaulted by partners don’t have permanent options. Instead, they are given the option to go to a domestic violence shelter, where they can stay “with the hope to get enough money saved up for a new place.” However, that’s often not enough time to scrape together a security deposit and/or first month’s rent.

3. Reporting a rape in and of itself is a time commitment, and moving forward with a trial could mean countless hours away from work.
Abigail Tuttle, an associate at Weber Kracht & Chellew and former deputy DA of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, says that a survivor would be required — at minimum — to be present for “interviews, sexual assault examination, perhaps a recorded phone call, preparatory meetings prior to hearings/trial, [a] preliminary hearing, perhaps pre-trial motions, and the trial.” While some workplaces might be flexible and allow personal time, most hourly workers are not entitled to that protection, and every hour in a lawyer’s office or courtroom is an hour of wages lost.

Shanlon Wu, an attorney who represents college students in sexual assault cases, says that the time from arrest to trial can last more than a year — in fact, delaying the trial is a tactic often used by the defense. The trial itself typically lasts about a week. To put that into perspective, ask yourself how many personal days you have saved up. How many hours can you miss before you lose your job entirely?

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Tagged in: Health, Julia Sonenshein