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Posted on 10 September 2023

Research Shows New Link Associated with Unreported Assault and Suicide Rates

Posted in Advice

It’s an alarming fact that suicide rates for assault survivors are 10 times higher than for those who have never suffered from abuse. It’s even higher in those who were aged under 16 years old when the abuse occurred.

Survivors of assault are often diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Two mental health conditions that can have serious impacts on a person’s ability to manage the strains of everyday life. These diagnoses can be managed over time with therapy and a lot of self-empathy. It’s a hard road to travel, as anyone who has been through it will tell you. But there is light at the end of the tunnel once you seek help. 

What happens when those feelings have nowhere to go, as a result of the survivor never telling anyone what happened? Many cases of assault go unreported due to factors such as fear, shame, stigma, lack of trust in authorities, or concerns about retaliation. Unreported assault can make it difficult to accurately quantify the number of assaults that occur and can decrease the survivor’s chances of making a full recovery. In fact, it can lead to self-harm and suicide.

The Statistics from Recent Research Has Highlighted Some Alarming Figures

In its most recent briefing paper, Underexamined and Underreported, Agenda Alliance published some data, which highlighted the issues surrounding assault and suicide rates. Along with statistics from research conducted by the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, it paints a bleak picture.

  • Researchers have discovered that over a third of rape survivors have contemplated suicide. And around 13% have attempted to end their own lives.  
  • Risk of suicide in people who were assaulted under the age of 16 is three to four times higher. than those who were assaulted at an older age.
  • Women are 10 times more likely to experience sexual abuse by a partner, with 27% of women reporting intimate partner violence.
  • Women who have been abused by a partner are three times more likely to have made a suicide attempt in the last 12 months.
  • Survivors of sexual assault are more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
  • PTSD is a given when someone has been through something as traumatic as assault.
  • People living in poverty are often more susceptible to domestic violence.
  • Female survivors are twice as likely to have faced financial crises, bereavement, redundancy and serious physical illness.
  • Survivors of assault are 10 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who haven’t had that experience.

There’s a wider issue around the training that should be provided to caregivers and those in positions of authority to minimise the chances of abuse going unnoticed. [link to NHS blog] But on a more personal note, the more people speak out about these issues, the more easily they can be prevented.

The Risks and Problems of Unreported Assault

There are myriad reasons why an assault may never get reported. Whether it’s an ongoing situation, or a one off, some circumstances could make reporting assault seem incredibly difficult.  

What Goes on Behind Closed Doors

In some cases, family stigma and cultural beliefs may play a part in keeping a victim quiet. Fear of losing your support network can be daunting, as can the worry of physical repercussions from family members.

Poverty can also play a part in this, particularly where financial abuse is taking place. If the person suffering doesn’t have control of their own finances, they have no way to pay for alternative accommodation. And if you couple that with abuse in the form of isolation, the victim often has nobody else they can turn to.

Fear of Social Stigma Plays a Part in Unreported Assault Cases

Fear of judgement can prevent people from reporting assault, whether it’s unfounded or a real concern.  

In cases of assault inflicted on men, they can feel emasculated. If they couldn’t protect themselves, that makes them vulnerable in a way some men think make them seem weak to others. It doesn’t matter how far from the truth that sentiment may be; if the survivor feels undermined, they are less likely to come forward.

Then there’s the judgement sometimes placed on women to behave and dress a certain way to be accepted. What if everyone thinks the survivor was “asking for it”? They may have been drunk at the time, which may feel in itself embarrassing for some. There’s the misconception that people may have thought the injured party was dressed inappropriately or that they were leading the perpetrator on. It can be equally distressing to think that previous sexual encounters may be brought up too. Unfortunately, society can wrongly judge without knowing the full details and this can cause people to stay quiet about the abuse or assault. The thought of having a case dismissed on those grounds can be so mortifying that the survivor chooses to stay quiet. They may even blame themselves for the incident.

Unreported Assaults May be Due to a Lack of Evidence 

Where cases of assault go unseen, it’s harder to make a report. In domestic abuse cases, often the abuser is clever about how they assault family members. They may choose hard-to-see places on which to inflict harm, such as armpits, under the hair, or on the genitalia or ribs. If there’s no documented evidence and no visible scarring or bruising, proving that the assault has taken place is harder.

Generally, when it comes to domestic assault, the abuse will have been going on for quite some time. It can create self-doubt and a loss of self-esteem. This can lead victims to believe that they are worthless, and that their needs don’t matter. Which makes them less likely to report what is happening. The survivor may even have fought back and sees themselves as equally culpable in their assault. Such as in cases of reactive abuse.

Where there’s no physical evidence in an abuse case, there may also be the worry that if the assault is reported, nothing will happen anyway. Except that once Pandora’s Box has been opened, there’s no going back and life could be as bad, or even worse, than before.

The Survivor May Feel the Situation Was Resolved When the Assault Was Over

Survivors often feel that once they’ve removed themselves from abusive situations, then it’s all over and they can get on with their lives. But that’s not always the case. Long-term abusers will often follow the object of their attention after they have left.  

In the case of physical assault, it could be written off as a standalone incident. If the person who has been injured chalks it all up to a bad experience, they may be less inclined to cause a fuss.

There’s the obvious reality that, while it could indeed be over as far as the abused party is concerned, the abuser in question could simply start abusing someone else.

Unreported Assault Creates an Opportunity for Abusers to Keep on Assaulting

Furthermore, reporting an assault could save your own life. You may feel that you have moved on, but trauma like that can lie dormant for years and then eventually come out sideways. In some cases, this may cause a breakdown or lead to you ending your own life. With assault leading to higher suicide rates, it’s not worth the risk of going it alone. Your abuser could go onto another relationship, and the cycle continues because they’ve never been reported.

It’s crucial that assaults and abuse are reported as soon as possible, where it is safe to do so.

Don’t Wait to Report a Serious Crime

If you need advice on a serious assault, our specialist solicitors are here to help.  

It doesn’t matter what the circumstances of the situation are. If you or someone you know is being abused, don’t wait to act. You might just save a life.

Contact Molly today