Why I Didn’t Report

Of all of the questions I get about my experience growing up in an abusive family, the number one has got to be “Why didn’t you report it?”

This post reflects on my own experiences with childhood abuse and why I did not report it. It does not represent the experience of everyone who has survived abuse and violence.

Of all of the questions I get about my experience growing up in an abusive family, the number one has got to be “Why didn’t you report it?” People can not fathom how I lived 17 years in fear, hiding bruising and at times even fighting to stay alive. When these people ask this, there is always an element of judgment in their voice. As if I never realized that was an option. As if it was obvious.

However, for those who have lived through domestic violence, abuse and even sexual assault, this is not as simple as it sounds.  Reporting is a complex issue, and the reason for choosing to report or not is unique to each person and each situation.

Why I Didn’t Report

Over the course of my childhood, during my abuse, my view on reporting evolved and changed. Now, as an adult working in mental health, I have been able to reflect on my own reporting story and recognize the patterns that weave through many survivors’ stories. I have learned that my reasons for not reporting are similar to others who have lived through abuse and violence.

Below are the three phases I went through during my reporting story.

Relationship

It started with me as a young girl, not understanding what was so different about my home compared to others. I was a child and still fully reliant on my parents to support me. My home was my world.

People underestimate the role a relationship can play in an individual’s reporting. Early into my abuse story, I was reluctant to report my mother simply because she was my mother. The woman who gave birth to me, the woman who taught me how to ride a bike and took care of me when I was sick. I loved her. I loved her the way any child would love their mother. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt her.

Instead, I justified it and allowed it to be normal. A mother is literally designed to love you (at least that’s what Mother’s Day commercials tell me), so this had to be love. I didn’t know that a relationship shouldn’t be like that.

Abusers are not horrible to their victims constantly. Between episodes, this person is a spouse or parent just like any other non-abusive home. This flip in dynamic can keep a victim devoted to the relationship and give them hope for change.

I Did…No One Cared

Once I got a little older the abuse became more forceful and less justifiable. This is the part of my story that is the most difficult for me. I did report. Many people knew, friends and their parents, church leaders, other family members, and my school all knew at some point throughout my childhood. There were even a few times the police were called by neighbors, particularly loud nights, and still nothing.

It happens too often that people are aware of the abuse a person is living through and do nothing. Thus is the story of many living with abusive parents or spouses. Trust me, people know.

Abusers rarely walk around with a sign saying they are a bad person. Most of the time, they are charismatic and friendly to others. They act the part of a loving spouse and parent, and the outside world believes them. Many are master manipulators and liars, using victim-blaming or seeking personal sympathy. Instead, the victim is assumed to be lying or exudating.

Even when evidence of abuse is undeniable, outsiders may not report it. People don’t tend to like getting involved with situations of this nature. They fear being wrong. They convince themselves that the report is worse than the abuse or simply assume someone else will do it. As time goes by, reporting feels like a futile mission, and will give up.

Fear and Shame

The final phase came later in my teens when no matter who knew nothing changed. The abuse continued, became more severe but it didn’t matter because I knew I was alone in it. No one was going to save me. Only I would be able to keep myself alive, so that’s what I did. I guess you could say I lost hope.

With time the victim can become used to their captivity. Experience has taught them that there is no escape, making survival the one and only focus. With each report or threat of report, the risk of repercussion increases. Abusers don’t tend to like their victim actively working to get them in trouble. Because of this, fighting back or failed attempts to escape can escalate abuse to even more dangerous levels. So instead, compliance becomes the new normal.

This control can also take place in the mind as well as the body. Abuse takes a toll on a victim mentally. An abuser will use manipulation to make the victim believe they are at fault. They will use insults and lies to convince them that there is something wrong with them, that they are worthless, or that this treatment is a twisted form of love. With time they convince the victim that there is no hope and that this is the best life they can have.

There is no wonder that most survivors of abuse suffer from depression, anxiety, trust issues, and low self-esteem. Reporting becomes an afterthought when you believe that either nothing will come from it or that you are not worth anything better. The longer they live in the abuse the more they fall into this trap.

Making a Difference

While every reporting story is different there are still similarities. My story stretched over 17 years and moved through each phase. Others may find the majority of their time in one phase, not experiencing others, experiencing phases in different orders, feeling more then one phase at a time or having new experiences not even listed.

Before you judge a person, who has stayed in an abusive situation, consider what set of circumstances they are living with. Who in their life has done nothing to help? What danger are they in if they are unsuccessful in reporting?  What control does this abuser have over them? Those who don’t report are not weak or stupid. They are doing the best they can to survive.

Be part of the solution by learning about how you can report abuse and violence with the links below.

Child Abuse Information and Reporting

https://www.childwelfare.gov/

Domestic Violence Information and Reporting

https://www.thehotline.org/

Sexual Assault Information and Reporting

https://www.rainn.org/


Read more about my story with my series

Diary of A Trauma Survivor

22 thoughts on “Why I Didn’t Report

  1. This is such an important post. Thank you for sharing. My wife grew up in a similar situation and if more people could understand these things I think there would be more solutions created. Thank you.

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  2. Thank you for sharing, this is so important. I had “friends” tell me that I must be lying about it because otherwise why wouldn’t I report it. I don’t think people understand how difficult it is reporting these things, for me I was very afraid of the repercussions if my abuser ever found out that I had reported it. I’m glad there are people like you sharing this kind of insight and information!

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  3. I’m so sorry you’ve been through this. I don’t know what I would do if I were in your place but I understand what you said about the precious relationship with a mother and daughter, I mean you can’t just easily report your birth mother, your everything. And it takes courage to report her and everything that comes along with it because you’re still a child and you depend on a home and a guardian. I’m also sorry if you did report and no one cared. You just asked the wrong, heartless people. By sharing this, you’ve helped so many people in the same shoe as you or to those who are reluctant whether they should report or not. Thank you so much. You deserve all the love.

    http://www.lifebeginsattwenty.com

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  4. Thank you for sharing this, especially the part about how manipulative and charismatic abusers are, That is something people don’t seem to realise. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship and didn’t realise what had happened to me until many years later. I knew not to let him hit me, but emotional abuse? That wasn’t even on my radar. I’m still dealing with the repercussions of what he did to me now 13.5 years later and have PTSD as a result.

    Even if I had realised at the time emotional abuse wasn’t illegal back then, and while I am glad it has become illegal in both England (where it happened) and Scotland (where I now reside) proving it is still difficult for reasons you identified here. My mental health was used against me as a weapon, and abusers have an entire wealth of personal information they collect and store to use against their victims. I probably couldn’t report it legally now, but that’s why I don’t point the finger either. I’ve had therapy and I discussed doing so with my therapist and I realised there is nothing for me to personally gain from it. Other people may do, and the lack of understanding from people makes it impossible for them to do so (just look at any abuse case that appears in the media, for instance).

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  5. Wow… it’s so brave of you to share this, I can’t even begin to imagine how painful it must have been. There needs to be greater understanding surrounding this serious problem, to prevent it ever being ignored or justified by those who know and should be able to help, it should not be the sole responsibility of victims

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  6. I love that you shared your experience, I believe that this will help many people feel like they are not alone. Coming from an abusive home it is easy to feel alone especially like you described; either no one believes you or nothing gets done…. that creates a lonely world for sure. Growing up speaking about child abuse wasn’t normal, and of course its hard getting pitty looks or seeing how uncomfortable your story makes others feel. I am glad people can speak about it now. I know that I experienced the same thing. I reported the abuse and nothing was done, the only thing it did was make it worse. No one suspected abuse because my parents were oh so charming…When people started to realize the actual hell I was living in, it didn’t matter because nothing was done. There were times where my parents tried killing me and when I defended myself they called the cops on me! I had many situations like this where me, being the victim got in more trouble than the abuser. Thank you for posting the child abuse resources, I pray it will help someone! No one should have to live through abuse.

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    1. Unfortunately this still hasn’t changed much. I still get a lot of hate and judgment for sharing my story as openly as I do. I have lost friends and family over it and struggle to make new friendships because of it. People don’t like hearing about it but I don’t care. I tell it because for those living through it and push back because there shouldn’t be stigma. Thank you for sharing your story and experience as well. It means a lot to me and others to know we are not alone.

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  7. This is such an open and honest post. I cannot imagine how it must have felt going through those phases and knowing that you tried to get help off others but they failed you. I’m so sorry. I hope you now have a good and happy life. Xx

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  8. Thank you for this honest and introspective piece. It’s helpful to hear from your side, your thought processes, and over a good amount of time. Thank you for sharing.

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  9. I really needed to read this after feeling to much guilt and negative feelings about never reporting abuse as an child or an adult. I’ve just never been able to do it or really tell many people. I have seen how the justice system has failed me and I couldn’t go through it in these instances. But i still live with the guilt and regret of not reporting every day of my life. I wish there was some kind of peace and I could let that go.. but I’m 30 years old and I still can’t. Siobhan ♡ | Vegan Babe Life

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    1. There is no shame in not reporting. You were a child and honestly it was not your responsibility. I hope you can find some peace in that fact. Thank you so much for sharing your pain and your story. You are not alone.

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  10. Well written and informative. I studied a lot about childhood abuse and worked with DSS for a short internship. It was definitely an eye opening experience as I worked closely with children and families. Abuse is often times generational. Thanks for highlighting this information.

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  11. I experienced it myself. At such a young age, you feel like nobody will believe you. Especially when it’s family that’s doing it to you.

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  12. This is sooo important. I’ve seen people believe victims are lying because they didn’t report, or pushing victims to report, and I hate that. It’s a very personal, nuanced decision and no one should ever be pushed one way or another. People need to focus more on supporting the victim in the way that specific person wants and needs, than pushing the victim to fit their own narrative.

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  13. Wow, I could feel your emotion with each passing sentence my heart sank a little more. Thank you for sharing your experience in a space such as this where others can see and hopefully learn there is a heavy psychological and emotional obstacle to not only recognizing that you’re even being abused, but all the obstacles that come with reporting.. stigma, lack of resources, shame, punishment from the abuser etc.

    This was definitely worth the read

    Thank you again for sharing

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  14. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Reading this was super triggering! I can feel your deep emotions in your writing.

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