my friend was raped but didn’t tell anyone

dear heather,
Recently, one of my friends told me that she was raped in November but didn’t tell anyone. She said that she was too afraid and embarrassed because of the guy who did it. I don’t really know how to help her or what to tell her. Considering how long ago it happened, is there anything she/we can do that can be of help now? What should I do?

It’s not uncommon for victims of rape to wait weeks or even months before they report their assaults. Some never come forward. They often fear that they will be blamed for the assault or that they will not be believed. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, victims of “acquaintance rape” are much more likely to delay reporting the crime, compared to victims of assault by strangers. Teens and young adults are even less likely to report assaults by an acquaintance. I’m assuming this is the case with your friend. A woman who is raped by someone she knows may be doubly embarrassed. If she was drinking or high when the incident occurred, or if she put her trust in her assailant, agreeing to go someplace alone with him, she may feel in some way responsible for “letting it happen.”

It is important for your friend to remember that it is not her fault. No one has the right to have sex with her without her consent, no matter what the circumstance. But even if she already knows this, it still can be quite scary to come forward. The reality is: Women who report rapes weeks or months later often come up against the misconception that if a woman doesn’t immediately report her rape, she is making it up. And it is probably too late to collect enough physical evidence to prosecute the crime.

However, there are some pretty compelling reasons to report rapes, even those that have occurred some time ago. Those who commit sexual assault rely on their victim’s reluctance to come forward. When their crimes are not reported, they are more likely to rape again. Let your friend know that reporting the crime doesn’t mean that she has to prosecute, but she will at least have the option of doing so if she chooses. Even if she decides not to prosecute, reporting the crime gives the police good information–for example, a description of the assailant or the rapist’s method–that may lead to the discovery of a pattern. This may be of great assistance in the investigation of other cases. There are, of course, personal considerations, as well. Those who have been raped often find that that reporting the crime makes them feel more in control, like they are standing up for themselves.

These are things you can discuss with your friend, but ultimately, deciding whether to report her rape is a very, very personal matter. I’m sure your support will go a long, long way, but please respect her right to make her own decision. For a list of other resources for support and information, please refer your friend to our rape resources page.

take care,

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