Opinion: Why North Carolina Sexual Assault Cases Go Unreported


Where are the lawsuits?

North Carolina has an unfortunate history of childhood sexual abuse. In 2020, NC became the first state in the South to open a temporary window for child survivors of sexual abuse of any age to bring civil suits. Is North Carolina really following these lawsuits? Here is the special report from The News & Observer.

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Our culture is not kind to survivors of sexual assault.

Olympian McKayla Maroney was one of four gymnasts on Team USA to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month about the abuse suffered by team doctor Larry Nassar, who sexually assaulted over 150 women and girls at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. After recounting several cases of sexual abuse Nassar inflicted on her as a teenager, Maroney informed the committee that the FBI agent assigned to her case had not reported the abuse she described for 17 month ; when they did, it included things she didn’t say.

“I started crying at the memory on the phone, and there was nothing but dead silence,” Maroney told the committee. “I was so shocked by the officer’s silence and his contempt for my trauma. After that minute of silence, he asked: “Is that all? Those words themselves were one of the worst moments of this whole process for me.

Maroney’s experience is no exception; it is indicative of how the nation, at all levels, treats survivors of sexual assault.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says only 32% of sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement. Of that 32%, other CDC data shows these reports confirm the improbability of a successful lawsuit: A 15-year study of sexual assault against women published in 2013 found that police made a report on 86% of rapes reported to them. , requested additional information 48% of the time, gathered evidence 19% of the time, and accused a person 12% of the time.

In North Carolina, less than a quarter of defendants accused of rape are convicted of this or a similar charge, according to a 2019 analysis by Carolina Public Press. The National Rape, Abuse and Incest Network estimates that less than 1% of sexual assaults actually lead to felony charges.

Despite recent legislation in North Carolina pushing for an extension of the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases, there has not been a drastic increase in lawsuits relating to sexual abuse. It is perhaps less about the societal structure of the state and more about how institutions do not work for rape victims, despite the new law.

“If there was legislation to increase protections for survivors who come forward, or to get people to provide corroboration, even if it goes against what they have said in the past, it would potentially help. more, ”said Rachel Valentine, executive director of the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.

The OCRCC does not force anyone to take legal action. Instead, the survivors decide what they want or need. If anyone wants to take legal action, they discuss with their case manager the realities of that action: the long list of steps before a case can go to court, the likelihood of a conviction, and the potential trauma that accompanies careful questioning and examination. lawyers.

The nonprofit recently compared its number of reported cases in 2020 to the number of sexual assault cases handled by the Chapel Hill Police Department. The ministry told OCRCC and The News & Observer they only saw 20 reports of rape, sexual assault and sexual battery. The rape victim support center recorded more than 520 reports.

These numbers are startling, but viewing them as statistics ignores something simple: Every survivor is different. Each survivor therefore has a different way of finding justice.

Actress Ashley Judd, one of the women who accused entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexually assaulting her, said at the time of her sentencing that she would have preferred a restorative justice process where he accepted the abuse that he had inflicted. In 2021, he denied all allegations of sexual violence inflicted by him, despite being found guilty by a jury in New York.

In the 2013 CDC study, 30% of self-reported sexual assaults in the National Criminal Victimization Survey gave no or more than one equal weight reason for not going to law enforcement. While 20% feared retaliation, 13% thought it was a personal matter and 13% believed the police would not help them. Eight percent said it was not important enough for them to report, 8% reported to another public servant, and 7% did not want their offender in conflict with the law.

Ninety-one percent of surviving children know their abusers or their families know them. They could be family members, school employees, or others in their community. Saying that you have been sexually assaulted, even as a child, shouldn’t be divisive. But he is.

It can be difficult to conceptualize not prosecuting sexual assault as severely as possible, but we must remember that survivors have varying experiences with our legal system depending on race, economic status, and other factors. . For those who wish to take legal action, there should be trauma-informed education at all levels of the justice system so that they are not forced to relive their abuse. We must not give priority to what justice wants to the detriment of victims.

Our culture is not kind to survivors of sexual assault. It’s up to us to listen when they tell us how they want to heal.

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Sara Pequeño is a Raleigh-based opinion writer for the McClatchy Opinion Team in North Carolina and a member of the Editorial Board. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2019 and has been writing in North Carolina since.

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