3.2 Capturing Prevalence and Reasons Why Victims Do Not Report

This subchapter suggests procedures for obtaining estimates of the number of cases not reported to law enforcement (Measure 4) and the number of these cases categorized by reason for not reporting (Measure 4a).6  The data on (Measure 4) plus the number of cases reported to law enforcement (Measure 3) provides a more complete count of sexual violence crimes occurring in a community. Collecting and tabulating the reason for not reporting cases (Measure 4a) can greatly enhance the value of the information by providing insight into how the criminal justice system can enhance victims’ ability to report sexual violence.

Data Collection for OM-4. The number of sexual violence cases reported by victims to a health or victim service agency, public or private, but not to law enforcement, will need to come from caseworker interviews with each victim. Such cases would include those in which the victim requested a sexual assault medical forensic exam at the hospital but declined to report to law enforcement.7

This information, when added to the number of cases in which victims reported to law enforcement, will provide a more accurate count of the number of sexual violence crimes that occurred within the jurisdiction. However, this process does not provide information on the number of sexual violence crimes not reported to any of the partners.8  

Data Collection for OM-3a: The data for Measure 3 will be considerably more useful if it is also broken out by reason(s) for declining to report. This information can greatly assist in targeting actions for improvement.

Health and/or victim service partners will need to collect and provide the data for this measure. The number of sexual violence incidents victims decline to report to law enforcement is not commonly tabulated by such organizations.

Even more rarely are the reasons for nonreporting noted. To obtain this data, the jurisdiction will need to work with these organizations to set up a process for routinely obtaining this information from victims in a way that does not compromise the victim’s identity. This process calls for health and/or victim service partners to explore with each of these victims the victim’s reason(s) for declining to report and then to provide the health and/or victim service partner’s interpretation and judgment as to the victim’s reasons. This data would then be reported to the prosecutor’s office.

The data needed for each reporting period is the total number and percentage of assaults victims indicated they did not want to report to law enforcement. Subtotals by selected victim characteristics (such as age, risk level, ethnicity and/or underserved characteristics) or any others will make the data considerably more helpful. For example, a tabulation might be made of the number and percentage of non-reporting victims that stated fear of treatment by police or prosecutors as the reason they did not come forward.

We emphasize that health and/or victim service providers should not provide data that would enable others to identify those victims who decided not to report the sexual violence crime to the police, unless such information is legally required. The outcome data for Measure 4 and Measure 4a require only the totals for each category of victim.

To help provide assessments that are more accurate and reliable, Exhibit 3-1 provides a starter list of such reasons. This list of factors is supported by research examining the reasons why victims decline to report sexual violence crimes.

Reasons Why Victims Do Not Report Sexual Violence to Law Enforcement

Those responsible for entering the information regarding victims not planning to report the sexual violence crime to law enforcement may check all that apply. Another option is to ask those entering the data to identify the most important reason. The information regarding a victim’s decision not to report to law enforcement must be obtained from agencies to whom victims reveal the assault while indicating they do not want to formally report the incident. The following list has been compiled from available research on reasons victims do not report crimes, particularly sexual violence crimes.

  • Victim is worried about how police/investigators will treat him/her.9
  • Victim is worried about how prosecutors will treat him/her.10
  • Victim is worried he/she won’t be believed by police or prosecutors.11
  • Victim perceives that he/she engaged in “risky behaviors” (g., drinking alcohol) that led to the sexual violence crime (victim self-blames).12
  • Victim chooses to report to other authorities (g., school officials).13
  • Victim was engaged in criminal behavior at the time of the sexual violence crime (g., prostitution, gang activity, underage drinking, illicit drug use).14
  • Victim fears getting in trouble with law enforcement (g., due to immigration status).15
  • Victim fears that a lack of, or “unfavorable” evidence, would harm their case.16
  • Victim believes the assault did not constitute “real” rape (g., no weapon used, no injuries, offender was an acquaintance or intimate partner).17
  • Offender was the victim’s friend, intimate partner, or acquaintance.18
  • Victim does not want family/friends/acquaintances to find out about the assault.19
  • Victim lacks confidence in the criminal justice system’s ability to pursue and achieve justice.20
  • Victim fears the trial process (g., testifying in court, seeing the assailant, cross-examination).21
  • Victim fears retaliation by the perpetrator or others.22
  • Victim has experienced intimidation or retaliation by the perpetrator or others.23
  • Responding officer discouraged victim from going forward with case.24
  • Investigating officer discouraged victim from going forward with case.25
  • Prosecutor discouraged victim from going forward with case.26
  • No reason given.


6 These OM numbers refer to the number of the key outcome measures listed in Exhibit 2-1.

7 The numbers of cases in which the assault was reported to law enforcement but the victim would not cooperate in the investigation are included in the tabulations for OM-2, discussed in the next chapter.

8 To obtain a fuller estimate, a community-wide survey would be needed. While desirable to have a more complete estimate each year of the number of sexual violence crimes in a community, this process would likely be quite costly. This volume does not, at this time, recommend annual surveys, even if the survey was conducted only every other year.

9 Melissa Schaefer Morabito, et al., It All Just Piles Up: Challenges to Victim Credibility Accumulate to Influence Sexual Assault Case Processing, J. Interpersonal Violence, 1, 14 (2016); Nancy Erbe, Prostitutes: Victims of Men’s Exploitation and Abuse, 2(2) Law & InEq. 609, 616-617 (1984); D. Kilpatrick et al., Drug-facilitated, Incapacitated, and Forcible Rape: A National Study 47 (National Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center, Medical University of South Carolina, 2007).

10 See Morabito, supra note 9.

11 See id.

12 See id.; see also Nicole Heath, Shannon Lynch, April Fritch, & Maria Wong., Rape Myth Acceptance Impacts the Reporting of Rape to the Police: A Study of Incarcerated Women, 19(9) Violence Against Women 1065-1978 (2013).

13 See Michael Planty, et al., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Female Victims of Sexual Violence 7 (2013).

14 See, e.g., Erbe, supra note 9, at 627.

15 See id., see also Jennifer Medina, Too Scared to Report Sexual Abuse. The Fear: Deportation, N.Y. Times, April 30, 2017.

16 See Ronet Bachman, The Factors Related to Rape Reporting Behavior and Arrest, 25(1) Crim. Justice & Behav. 8-29 (1998); see also Kilpatrick, supra note 9, at 47.

17 See Megan Alderden, What victims want: Do sexual assault victims also use the “good” victim ideology? Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Philadelphia, PA; Kilpatrick, supra note 9, at 44.

18 See Kilpatrick, supra note 9, at 44.

19 See id.

20 See Planty et al., supra note 13, at 7.

21 See Patricia A. Frazier & Beth Haney, Sexual Assault Cases in the Legal System: Police, Prosecutor, and Victim Perspectives, 20(6) L. & Human Behav. 607, 624 (1996).

22 See Morabito, supra note 9, at 15; see also Planty et al., supra note 13, at 7.

23 See id; see generally Teresa Garvey, Witness Intimidation: Meeting the Challenge (AEquitas: The Prosecutor’s Resource on Violence Against Women: Washington, D.C., 2013); Amy E. Bonomi, Rashmi Gangamma, Chris R. Locke, Heather Katafiasz, & David Martin, “Meet me at the hill where we used to park”: Interpersonal Processes Associated with Victim Recantation, 73 Soc. Sci. & Med. 1054 (2011).

24 See Wayne Kerstetter & Barrik Van Winkle. Who Decides? A Study of the Complainant’s Decision to Prosecute in Rape Cases. 17 Crim. Justice & Behav. 268-83 (1990).

25 See id.

26 See id.