Sexual Assault Victims Face Hurdles in Coming Forward

Victims of sexual assault keep quiet because there isn't appropriate support to encourage them to come forward.

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The Penn State sexual abuse scandal makes any caring person furious with university and football officials who knew or suspected that children were being assaulted and did nothing. It also makes some of us question why the boys themselves did not come forward with formal complaints. Two more recent disclosures show why.

First, we have Kelley Currin, a now-adult woman who disclosed that she had sex with her swimming coach back in the 1980s, when Currin was a young teenager. Her age, by definition, makes the accusation against Rick Curl, a well-known Washington coach, rape. Curl paid the family $150,000 as part of an agreement to make up for the "pain and suffering" experienced by Currin, the Washington Post reports. And while there is something distasteful about a family taking money from a grown man who had illegal sex with their daughter, Currin and her family clearly didn't think they would get anywhere with the criminal justice system. Their attorney at the time, the woman said, told them that the Maryland County State's Attorney told him Curl would merely get a "slap on the wrist." What else were they to do?

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Then, we have Savannah Dietrich, a Kentucky teenager who was sexually assaulted by two boys. Unhappy with the plea agreement in the case, Dietrich went on Twitter to name her attackers. The response? The attorney for the two juvenile sexual attackers filed a motion to charge the female victim with contempt for identifying the boys against a court order. The attorneys recently dropped the motion, but the message is clear to victims: Fight back, and you will be punished. Unlike, often, the attackers themselves.

Washington woman Liz Gorman is fighting back. Molested by a man on a bicycle (he rode past her, stuck his hand under her skirt and thrust his fingers inside her before riding off, laughing), Gorman not only told police, but she blogged about it. The post unleashed a torrent of responses from women in similar situation—women who had been groped on the street or on the Metro, but decided not to report it, since they felt little would or could be done to catch the perverts who molested them.

No one gets caught when victims keep quiet. Children, who naturally feel more afraid and ashamed to come forward, should be given the support they need. And Gorman should be lauded for her courage and defiance.

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