Unique Dynamics and Barriers in Sexual Assault Cases

After the act of assault, around 70% of victims do not go on to report the incident according to RAINN. There are several reasons why victims do not report, many of which are fueled by fear and dismissal. Reasons include fear of not being believed, concern their victimization might be made public, fear of physical repercussions by the perpetrator, fear of re-victimization during legal procedures, and the lack of ability to identify oneself as a victim. In addition, if a response is counter intuitive to the public expectations, victims may also be hesitant to come forward. Some groups of victims are faced with unique dynamics with the perpetrator and meet additional barriers when trying to report sexual assault which are outlined in the first volume of our new sexual assault textbooks, intended for those who respond to these cases.

Individuals with Perceived Vulnerabilities

Perpetrators will often go after individuals with perceived vulnerabilities which include developmental disability, physical disability, impairment due to alcohol or drugs, and previous victimization. After establishing a target, perpetrators will try establishing a relationship before attacking or will groom the victim.

Complex communications issues,  present with those who have certain developmental disabilities, those within confinement, and those with drug or alcohol impairment, can hinder reporting. Those with mental disabilities can face personal skepticism associated with their disability and whether or not their perspective of the attack is credible. Perceived vulnerable individuals can also include LGBTQ victims, who may fear not being believed based on their sexual orientation.


In a similar way that perceived vulnerable victims are targeted, children are also targeted due to their disadvantages in the process of reporting. Often children are unable to recognize abuse due to their age or they may be unable to communicate their abuse. Fear also keeps children from reporting, especially if the abuser is an authority figure or if they suspect repercussion from other adults in their life.

Intimate Partners

In the case of an attack from someone with an established relationship, intimate partners usually are hesitant to report due to self-blame and a loss of trust. Victim of attacks from intimate partners are less like to report and face unique trauma due to lack of self-identification, shame, and fear of physical reprisal from their partner.

There is no one expected victim behavior following an assault. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline to be connected with a professional. For anyone who is part of the multidisciplinary team who responds to cases of sexual assault, it is important to keep these points in mind to better serve the victims. We have specific chapters for the different members of the response team in our book Sexual Assault Victimization Across the Lifespan, Second Edition, Volume One: Investigation, Diagnosis, and The Multidisciplinary Team.

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