Health Team

This is why people hesitate to report sexual misconduct

Posted September 17, 2018 7:22 p.m. EDT

— The news has been filled with stories of prominent men accused of sexual misconduct -- many of the alleged misdeeds going back decades.

The circumstances are different in each case, but we often hear the same question: Why did the accusers wait so long to come forward? It has come up again in the case of the woman accusing Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually and physically assaulting her more than 30 years ago.

Some who came forward explained their reasons for waiting. In other cases, the treatment accusers endured after coming forward made their reasons apparent. Here are a few examples:

They lose their privacy

The woman accusing Kavanaugh of attempting to force himself on her tried to remain anonymous, according to the Washington Post.

But as her private outreach to California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein became public, she decided to go ahead and speak for herself, the newspaper said Sunday.

Now, Christine Blasey Ford's name and account are being used in calls to halt nomination proceedings until an investigation is completed. Kavanaugh steadfastly denies the allegations.

The Post said Ford reached out to the paper in July as Kavanaugh's name appeared on short lists to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy. But she opted not to speak with the Post on the record for weeks, "calculating that doing so would upend her life," the paper said. As the story grew, she said she saw inaccuracies about herself being repeated and she "felt her privacy being chipped away," the Post said.

"Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation," she said, according to the paper.

They think no one will believe them

According to the Post, Ford's lawyer, Debra Katz, advised her to take a polygraph test, believing that people would call Ford a liar if she came forward.

Katz provided the results to The Post, the paper said. They concluded that Ford "was being truthful when she said a statement summarizing her allegations was accurate," according to the article.

Their names will be dragged through the mud

Rachael Denhollander, one of the first women to publicly accuse former sports doctor Larry Nassar of assault, said she kept silent for years because she saw how other accusers were treated.

"... I watched family and friends eviscerate sexual assault victims who spoke up against a candidate, team, pastor, ministry or local friend they liked, and I got the message loud and clear," Denhollander said Monday on Twitter.

"I watched them denigrate the victim's character, motives, truthfulness, and value some political, sport or ministry goal more than the truth. Completely blinded to even the possibility it could be true. It felt like a knife wound every time I saw it."

Their motives are questioned

When the Washington Post published accounts from four women who said Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore pursued them as teenagers, Moore's supporters said they found the timing "suspect." The Senate race was just weeks away, leading many, including Moore's wife, to accuse the women of conspiring with the "liberal press" to get "involved" with the race.

Moore denied the allegations.

The Washington Post said none of the women approached the paper with the story. On the contrary, the paper approached the women after receiving a tip and asked them to come forward.

They fear reprisals

Former CBS executive Les Moonves denies allegations that he abused his position of influence to coerce female actresses and producers into unwanted sexual activity.

According to The New Yorker, six women who had professional interactions with Moonves said he became "cold or hostile after they rejected his advances, and that they believed their careers suffered as a result." Two women said Moonves threatened to derail their careers, according to the magazine.

Numerous Weinstein accusers also said they stayed quiet for fear of the consequences of challenging a man who held their career in his hands.

In her account of Weinstein's alleged harassment, actress Gwyneth Paltrow said she feared the repercussions for her career if she were to speak out. After her then-boyfriend, Brad Pitt, confronted Weinstein, the Miramax producer warned her not to tell anyone else, she told The New York Times.

"I thought he was going to fire me," she said.

Actor Terry Crews expressed a similar sentiment when he went he public in October with allegations that an unnamed Hollywood executive groped him. The executive apologized "but never really explained why he did what he did," Crews said on Twitter in October.

"I decided not to take it further because I didn't want to be ostracized -- par for the course when the predator has power and influence," he said, laying out the potential scenario:

"Who's going to believe you? Few.

"What are the repercussions? Many.

"Do you want 2 work again? Yes.

"Are you prepared to be ostracized? No."

They blame themselves

American gymnast Simone Biles has described the guilt victims carry around after being violated.

The Olympic champion said she was also sexually abused by Nassar, the former USA gymnastics team doctor who admitted to taking advantage of young female athletes in his care.

Before speaking up, Biles said she grappled with whether she could have done something to prevent what happened, even though she did nothing to cause it.

"For far too long I've asked myself 'Was I too naive? Was it my fault?'" she said in January.

"I now know the answer to those questions. No. No. It was not my fault. No, I will not and should not carry the guilt that belongs to Larry Nassar, USAG and others."

They worry that their past will be used against them

One of Moore's accusers told the Washington Post that she didn't come forward sooner because she worried that her background, which included three divorces and financial troubles, would undermine her credibility.

"There is no one here that doesn't know that I'm not an angel," Leigh Corfman said, referring to her home town of Gadsden, Alabama.

Corfman has since filed a defamation lawsuit against Moore and his campaign for calling her allegations "politically motivated" and "malicious."

What to do if you are a victim or a survivor

Ford's lawyer has said survivors should be able to choose if and when to come forward, and experts agree.

Each person deals with trauma in a different way, and it should be up to an individual to decide how they want to move forward.

Experts recommend finding someone to talk through possible scenarios. It could be someone you know and trust not to act on your behalf without your say-so, such as a friend, a relative or a coworker. Or it could be someone on the end of a hotline or a local resource in your community.

Anyone affected by sexual violence can reach out to the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit to receive support via confidential online chat.