Jane Galliher says she was raped by her boss 16 years ago. At the time, she feared she wouldn’t be believed. But with the encouragement of a friend, she told her story of the sexual assault to Springfield police.
In her case, the police report didn’t culminate in a charge being filed by the Sangamon County state’s attorney. Still, she believes she made the right decision about reporting.
“It really matters to get help. It really matters to report it, because if you don’t, it just haunts you the rest of your life,” says Galliher, a 60-year-old who now lives in Indianapolis.
Sexual assault survivors of late have had to deal with a string of national media reports about sexual assault. Most recently, there was the haunting congressional testimony of Christine Blasey Ford in which she accused now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of assaulting her when they were high school. It was enveloped in discussions of why she hadn’t reported the incident at the time.
Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, says often women will choose to report because they are seeking justice.
“Many victims want the assailant caught. Victims want assailants held accountable. That’s a huge reason that victims will come forward is that they often will say at some point, ‘I don’t want this to happen to anybody else.’ ”
Alternatively, Poskin says, many women don’t want to report because, counterintuitively, they don’t want their rapist punished. Others won’t report because, like Galliher, they are afraid they won’t be believed. Galliher says she gathered strength from having a police officer tell her that he believed her story.
“There was somebody who believed me, and that really helped me get through it,’’ she says of her 2002 rape.
But Galliher’s experience with law enforcement may be unusual.
Poskin says that only one out of every seven to 10 sexual assaults are ever reported to police. After that, the numbers go down sharply.
“For about every 100 reports of rape to law enforcement, probably 25 are charged, half of that are prosecuted, and half of that ever result in an outcome,” she said.
So why report?
“The choice to report or not to report — both of them come with their own set of circumstances that you then deal with afterwards, certainly,” says Springfield social worker Jeanné Hansen.
“Choosing to report, there's often exams that happen at hospitals or doctors’ offices, and interviews by police and investigators, and potentially the whole legal system and the legal battle that may happen.
“Choosing to not report — often they don't tell anybody. And so, then they're dealing with all of that …. so that can certainly come with its own set of consequences, if you will, and, you know, not being able to share that can create a real sense of isolation,” Hansen says.
Most of the clients she has seen seem to come to terms with the decision, whether it was to report or not, she says.
And for many, reporting was never an option. Such was the case with Molly McLay, who is now a Champaign social worker.
As she heard the drumbeat of the Kavanaugh news, McLay told her own story of assault on Facebook. She says she didn’t report because at the time of the attacks, she didn’t see the experiences as assaults.
In her Facebook post, she encouraged other people to come forward with their own stories, and more than 70 individuals shared.
“It's really just had a major impact on a lot of people. I think the foremost it's been on the survivors who have shared,’’ she says. “Many of them have told me that this is the first time they ever really wrote out what happened to them, and that it was cathartic for them to do it when they look back and read it, (it was) healing. Empowering.”
One of those survivors, now 23 and living in Chicago, alleges he was assaulted as a child, by a family friend (at his request, we are not sharing his identity).
“It wasn't something I thought I would ever talk about to anyone. I guess I didn't even necessarily think it was wrong. But
yeah, years later, obviously now, having matured, having been college-educated, I know that what happened to me was assault,” he says. “I would say that it could have had an impact on my self-perception, maybe my sexuality, and how I perceived myself growing up. Especially once I processed what happened, I felt very insecure as a man.”
Irene (not her real name), a 29-year-old from Rantoul, says she was sexually assaulted when she was a child by a man who she believed to be her father. After many years she reported the incident. She says she was made to believe her experience was not a big deal because there were no consequences for the perpetrator.
“I ended up being in therapy for about 10 years, a very long time, to work through what happened. I would have really bad triggers that would cause the anxiety attacks…. It would trigger the memory, and I would have a panic attack,” she says. “So, it took me a very long time to work through that. And I eventually did, and I felt like I was doing very, very well until pretty recently with just everything that's going on in the media. It's kind of brought it all back — this stuff the last couple of weeks with Kavanaugh. It kind of brought the feelings up just a little bit when Trump was elected, but for some reason, the situation with Kavanaugh just really took a much bigger toll on me emotionally.”
Hansen, the social worker, says she heard from numerous sexual assault survivors who were retraumatized by the national reports of women retelling the stories of their attacks. The symptoms included depressed mood, increased crying, anxiety, troubling dreams, flashbacks — all classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Rantoul woman we called Irene says she can relate.
“That's why I'm talking to you. And that's why I've anonymously shared my story every way I can,” she says. “I know that I'm not the only one feeling this way. And there's a lot of women that are struggling with these same emotions. And we need to be heard, and we just need to know that people understand.”
Hansen says it is important for survivors to talk about their experiences, “even if it isn't an actual report to try and pursue some sort of repercussions for a perpetrator. But at least to share the story because that is something huge to carry around by yourself for the rest of your life.