Suffering in silence: Why young girls find it difficult to speak up against rape

Why do the survivors of sexual violence fail to report the case on time? What factors actually force the survivors and victims of sexual violence to suffer in silence?

Shrutika Raut

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: There has been a new surge in discussion regarding sexual assault and the statute of limitation in cases related to sexual assault. 

This followed after the rape allegations by a young girl against an actor and the recent revelations by another young girl, who was raped by one of the organizers of Miss Global International. 

The two cases are different, as one deals with grooming and the other with violent sexual assault. However, there can be parallels when it comes to older men and power dynamics.

The first case is that of a 16-year-old aspiring to be an artist who meets a much older, a well-established actor who goes on to have a relationship with her despite her being a minor and 15 years younger than him. Since she was underage at the time of their so-called “relationship”, it is clearly a case of grooming and any physical relations ensuing would count as statutory rape. When she tried to raise a voice about what happened to her, she was vilified, her story was twisted, and her character was dragged in the mud until she felt forced to walk back her police report.

The second case took place when the victim was 16 years old and looking to be a model, which led her into pageantry. She was allegedly sexually assaulted at a so-called celebration event, which led to six months of sexual abuse, and then to a years-long struggle with trauma.

What factors actually force the survivors and victims of sexual violence to keep silent?

She reportedly chose not to report her abuser to the police on the insistence of her then boyfriend as well as chose not to tell her parents what happened. 

And seeing what happens to women who dare to speak up, it’s no surprise that teenage girls choose not to report such cases.

In the first case, the victim was being groomed and manipulated with promises of marriage when she “came of age” and in the second, she was being gaslighted and blackmailed by a ‘powerful man’ who threatened to spoil her reputation. The severity of the cases are different, but both show ‘powerful men’ using whatever means necessary to abuse and silence young girls.

The statute of limitations in Nepal for rape cases is just a year, which means that victims have up to 365 days to report to the authorities. The one-year period is among the shortest limitation periods in South Asia, and even that was raised from a mere 35 days. This isn’t enough time because a lot of young girls come clean about their abuse much later in life.

So why do the survivors of sexual violence fail to report the case on time, while doing so could at least provide a ray of hope that the justice will be done and the perpetrators brought to book? What factors actually force the survivors and victims of sexual violence to keep silent?

Srijana Shrestha, who teaches psychology at Tribhuwan University, had this to say about why women come out about their abuse incidents when they’re older, “Young girls don’t always have the confidence to reveal the injustices that happen to them, and they lack the insight to deal with the consequences of coming out with such accusations such as how it may hamper their reputation or their future,” she said. “Not everyone can reveal such facts to their families, even in developed countries. Women often reveal their stories when they are older and more mature when they feel confident that it won’t hurt their lives.”

Srijana Shrestha

According to her, we need to ensure the safety of the sexual assault survivors so that they can seek help from friends and family. “Whether it is by educational or entertainment means, it is necessary to make youngsters wary about sexually abusive behavior and what to do if they are ever in that situation. As for the parents, they need to observe their children’s behavior if they’re showing discomfort around certain people. This can happen to both male and female kids, so we need to be wary of that,” said Shrestha.

She says that sexual assault is not something women can report easily because of the stigma and victim-blaming that goes on in our society against rape victims.

As things stand, rape is still seen as a two-way crime: The victim must have done something, said something, or worn something that made the perpetrator sexually assault her. This tries to take the blame off the perpetrator and makes sexual assault seem like a natural impulse to some external incident. It’s an unfortunate effect of rape culture, and the only way we can make it easier for sexual assault victims to speak out is by making them feel believed and not ostracized.