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Why Does Sexual Assault Cases Within Family Remain Under-Reported?



As people are gaining the courage to report incidences of sexual assault in workplaces, churches, schools, and streets, those that are committed within family units tend to stay hidden.

Rape is a global crisis. Women, men, and children of all ages, religions, economic classes and races can be victims of rape. As per the statistics, one in three girls and one in six boys will be raped by the age of 18. Sexual offenses happen every five minutes.

These numbers are staggering, and the question then is, why are so many cases of rape within family units not being reported?

Well, there’s a huge degree of silencing around incestuous or family rape. Shame is a significant factor in keeping the victims silent. Fear of reaping the family apart also takes center stage in ensuring the cases remain unheard.

The Rape Culture

Many survivors who come forward report close relations like; a grandfather, uncle, mother’s boyfriend husband, or stepfather was behind the attack. These are people who the victims trust and even depend upon.

Patriarchy has been the cornerstone feature in African societies for centuries. The systemic domination by men in homes serves to control, and sometimes devalue women,” Ngozi Marima, a Counseling Coordinator at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust said. “Women lack patriarchal gender norms and economic empowerment. So, if the rapist takes care of all bills, then the child may as well be sacrificed to ensure continued support regarding basic needs. Reporting such cases might mean going without food.”

Victim blaming

“What were you wearing? Did you talk suggestively? Did you lead him on?” are the questions that victims get asked all the times, concerning the attack. Victim blaming insinuates that the victim is somewhat responsible. In reality is, the victim isn’t to blame. The abuser is; because they make a conscious choice to carry on with the act.

The Victim blaming attitude pushes the victim to the side, making it harder for them to report the offense, since they won’t feel comfortable or safe, coming forward to talk. Other family members, who may suffer a similar fate, might be forced to endure in solitude for fear of judgment.

Besides, such attitudes only allow the perpetrators to carry on with their sexual assaults and relationship abuse because they are not accountable for their actions.

“Sexual offense is motivated by power, control, and hostility, not sexual desire. Humans, unlike animals, can control how they choose to behave or express sexual desires. The most unfortunate bit is that perpetrators are people who the victims know, and sometimes trust,” Marima concluded.

Rape is a crime, regardless of who commits the act; whether it’s an acquaintance, grandfather, friend, dad, uncle, husband, aunty or cousin.

Conjugal bed

Can no mean no even after I do? The Spousal sexual assault is amongst the least understood, but most intimate violation form; men treating women as though they are their possessions, not partners. Many cases involve a man physically abusing the wife before sexually assaulting them. And the pleas to stop him always fall on deaf ears.

Sadly, most women can’t bring themselves to leave, let alone report the man they once loved. In fact, they may become hyper-vigilant in the attempt to please their husbands. The equation becomes complex when kids are in the picture. The thought of single parenthood can be intimidating, especially if one isn’t financially empowered.

Furthermore, there’s a stigma for all survivors and victims of rape, and it’s worse for those who are married; after all, they dated and married the perpetrator, lived in the same house and maybe even share children or mortgage. This is what renders most of them silent.

“It should be known that anytime a person is forced into having sex, they’ve been sexually abused, notwithstanding if they said “no” or fought back. Victims might not fight the assailant due to threats, shock, fear or their strength and size,” added Marima.

What to do after a rape

Although you may be in shock after abuse, there are practical steps you can take to ensure your safety and also bring the perpetrator to justice. Remember, failure to come out gives the assailant power to repeat the act.

  • Get to a safe place
  • Talk to someone
  • Do not wash your clothes or bath to preserve evidence
  • Report the rape
  • Get medical attention to prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancies
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