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.
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.”
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?
4. Beyond lost wages, reporting rape by a coworker or boss can lead to retaliation in the office.
A cursory Google search of “can I get a restraining order against my coworker” yields pages of discouraging responses, saying that bosses and coworkers aren’t guaranteed to take your side in the matter.
No workplace has had as much public attention when it comes to reporting rape and sexual assault as the U.S. military, and it serves as an example of just how devastating rape can be for professional growth. According to Human Rights Watch, service members are “12 times as likely to experience some form of retaliation as to see their attacker convicted of a sex offense” — all while facing a labyrinthine procedure for prosecution that may as well hand rapists get-out-of-jail-free cards.
Retaliation can include poor work assignments and loss of promotion opportunities, in addition to threats of more violence. There is also the risk of ruining the careers of those who report — victims are often punished for “minor misconduct at the time of the assault, such as underage drinking or adultery.” This can be devastating to a survivor, as it decimates any career growth opportunities.
5. Reporting can derail a person’s education, which in turn hinders professional opportunity down the line.
Berg says that she often works with survivors who won’t name their rapists because they may be in the same academic program, or their attacker may be a staff or faculty member who could have a significant impact on their education. Berg says that “these power dynamics are all too common” and “prevent many survivors from coming forward and/or pressing charges.” Additionally, some colleges penalize students who report assaults that occurred alongside underage drinking or similar minor offenses, so students will stay silent for fear of punishment that would derail their education, and in some cases cost them scholarships or housing.
“Students often don’t want to pursue the criminal process because they know it will require an investment of time and energy that could negatively impact their academics — which is their top priority,” says Jessica Mertz, director of student sexual violence prevention and education at the University of Pennsylvania.
Berg points out that victims of assault frequently must withdraw from or even fail their classes, which often disqualifies them from receiving federal financial aid in the future. “Sometimes the schools are able to make reasonable accommodations to remove a failed course from someone's academic history, but other times the survivor is left with a choice between paying for the next semester completely out of pocket, taking on student loans with high interest rates, or simply discontinuing their education,” she says.
Many college students simply don’t want people to know they’ve been raped for fear of ostracism. Mertz has worked with “students who are concerned about the publicity around a potential criminal case and/or worry that reporting what happened to them could impact professional opportunities.”
“Victims, especially those in college, know that reporting rape comes with a social risk, especially when the perpetrator is someone they know,” writes Eliza Gray in Time. “At a small or midsize college, the rapist is likely to be part of the victim’s social circle.” Lest you think that social ostracism doesn’t come with an economic cost, consider the immense selling point of college networks when it comes to recruiting applicants. If you lose the network entitled to you by your tuition for reporting a rape, the cost to your future job prospects are enormous.
These problems are not insurmountable, and there are solutions to be implemented. Yaffa believes that “the federal government should compensate employers for providing pay to survivors who have been brave enough to step forward where cases have resulted in a trial.”
Berg points to the example of a new bill signed March 30, 2015 in Colorado that would allow victim’s compensation to be used to replace the household support provided by the abuser. On a collegiate level, Steven R. DiSalvo, Ph.D., president of St. Anselm College, argues for a zero-tolerance policy on all campuses that would remove the abuser from campus immediately, so that “the victim should no longer live in fear of that other individual, even while further investigation continues.” Additionally, he advocates that students who report should not face punishment for their behavior at the time the assault.
Our current system provides strong economic incentives not to report rape, and it’s a highly effective method for keeping survivors quiet. As Berg puts it, “the biggest issue we are up against as a society … is the myth that rapists are all bad people lurking in dark alleys. Statistically, most sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, at least as an acquaintance. So those of us who are colleagues or classmates of both parties — or perhaps fans of the accused's professional work — struggle to believe that the perpetrator is capable of such a thing.” Because of this mythology surrounding rape, the legal and cultural system is stacked firmly against survivors, and we aren’t providing an incentive to come forward or support when someone does.