Unreported rapes: the silent shame

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The devastating scale of sexual violence against women in Britain is exposed today by new research which indicates that the vast majority of victims do not report perpetrators to the police.

One in 10 women has been raped, and more than a third subjected to sexual assault, according to a major survey, which also highlights just how frightened women are of not being believed. More than 80 per cent of the 1,600 respondents said they did not report their assault to the police, while 29 per cent said they told nobody – not even a friend or family member – of their ordeal.

Negative social attitudes to rape and sexual assault victims play a big part in the reluctance of women to come forward, the survey by Mumsnet suggests. Nearly three-quarters (70 per cent) of respondents feel the media is unsympathetic to women who report rape, while more than half say the same is true of the legal system and society in general.

The findings come as the social networking site launches a campaign to dispel the myths surrounding sexual violence, which it says stop victims from accessing support and justice. The week-long “We Believe You” campaign is backed by Rape Crisis, Barnardo’s and the End Violence Against Women coalition.

Fear of being blamed, because of their clothes or alcohol intake or for staying with an abusive partner, means more than half of the women surveyed in February and March 2012 said they would be too embarrassed or ashamed to report the crime. The stubbornly low conviction rates still put off 68 per cent of victims from going to the police, but perhaps even more surprising is the fact 29 per cent said they did not tell anyone, not even friends or family, about the rape, while 53 per cent said they would be reluctant to do so because of shame or embarrassment. Mumsnet wants to convey that every rape is as serious as the next, despite the contrary and controversial assertion by Justice Minister Ken Clarke last year.

Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet, said: “It is shocking and unacceptable that this number of women have been raped and sexually assaulted. But the stand-out fact is that so few would report it to officials or even to loved ones, because of the general perception society is unsympathetic. If our campaign can dispel the myths and help women realise how commonplace it is, then some may feel more emboldened to get help.”

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