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5 Misconceptions About Sexual Misconduct Victims

There are many different reasons a woman who reports sexual abuse or misconduct might not be believed by others around her. Some people might say, “It took her over a decade to come forward,” or “She can’t recall the exact details of what occurred.” With the #metoo movement making headlines across the nation, more and more of these statements are being made as women continue to come forward and reveal instances of sexual misconduct. However, these doubts that are commonly raised after a sexual abuse allegation are actually what experts expect to see after a sexual assault has occurred. In this blog, we talk about 5 misconceptions that make people doubt sexual misconduct victims.

Acting Like a Victim

Victims behave in all sorts of ways after a sexual assault. There is no set standard for how to respond to a sexual assault. A person who has experienced trauma can seem calm or flat, distraught, or overtly angry. The response of the victim varies depending on their personality and the trauma the experienced.

Some sexual assault victims might react to their trauma by self-medicating, partaking in high-risk sexual behavior, or withdrawing from the people around them. Some revert to a sense of normalcy after they have been assaulted. According to Veronique Valliere, a psychologist who counsels sexual assault perpetrators and victims, using social media can be an attempt to get over trauma. She says, “That’s a pretty normal reaction to helplessness and terror. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have PTSD, it means she thinks this is the way she’s going to be protected. This is the way she’s going to regain control.”

Staying Friendly With the Abuser

Abusers go through great lengths to gain the trust of their victim and establish a sense of benevolence. According to experts, women are socially conditioned to try to “smooth things over” and consequently feel guilty after an abusive episode, leading them to keep in contact with the abuser. When the abuser is in a position of power, the victim has few options except to stay in contact with the offender.

They Did Not Immediately Come Forward

Although negative consequences might prevent victims from coming forward, other factors can contribute to a person’s decision to keep quiet about their sexual abuse. Experts note that when the abuser is someone the victim trusted, it can take longer for the victim to conclude that they were violated. Confusion and blame are methods that abusers use to keep a victim from coming forward about their experiences. Often, abusers camouflage their actions as horseplay or humor, or they will act like nothing happened.

The Story Doesn’t Add Up

Our memories fade with time, and when the brain’s defense circuitry is triggered, the section that controls our attention can be impaired and affect which memories are recorded. Sometimes a victim might remember details, but not the order of events. This means that the bits of information might be accurate, but the order can be incomplete or scattered.

They Didn’t Fight Back

Neurobiological research suggests that the so-called fight-or-flight response to danger is more like “fight, flight, or freeze” in actual practice. Fighting back is viewed as an easy way to determine if the assault in question was consensual or not.  However, a victim can become involuntarily immobile from the brain’s protective response. Although we tend to compare a victims actions with what we think we would have done in a similar situation, research shows that our imagined responses are usually much more aggressive than they would actually be if ever carried out.

To learn more about misconceptions regarding sexual misconduct, read this NY Times article:

Have you or a loved one experienced sexual misconduct at work? We can help. Contact our Connecticut employment discrimination lawyer to discuss your case today.