Letter: Believe the victims

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On May 26, another sad chapter in the reprehensible treatment of gymnasts at the hands of Larry Nassar came to an end when the Department of Justice declined to pursue criminal charges against two former FBI special agents in the Indianapolis office.

When these brave gymnasts came forward in 2015, risking shame and blame, the FBI office in Indianapolis did not believe them. Meanwhile, Nassar sexually assaulted an estimated 120 women and children while the investigation stalled.

Now, there will be no consequences for those agents, whose inaction and delay put others at risk and betrayed the trust of an entire community.

At the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking, we know that the number one reason survivors don’t report is because they don’t think they will be believed. And in this case, here in our home state, they weren’t.

Nationally, 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement. Rape is the most underreported crime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Statistics show that, like the gymnasts, survivors either know or are acquainted with the individual who assaults or abuses them.

The stigma of the crime prevents survivors from coming forward. What can we do?

Believe victims. Nationally, false reporting is between 2% and 10%. That means 90% to 98% of survivors are telling the truth. In Indiana, one in five women have been sexually assaulted. Indiana ranks fourth in the nation for reported rapes among high school girls and sixth for high school boys.

Believing victims takes all of us. It starts at home, with open and frequent conversations about consent and healthy and respectful relationships. You can learn how to be an effective bystander. You can talk to your employer about workplace sexual harassment policies. You can contact your federal and local elected official to advocate for survivors. And you can support initiatives that empower survivors.

At the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking, we are tireless in ensuring survivors are believed and supported. Our mission is to provide training and support to recognize the warning signs, and create a culture of care for young people, so this never happens again.

Let this moment in time renew our efforts to protect survivors and hold abusers accountable. Let’s start by believing our survivors.


Beth White, CEO

Priscilla D. Keith, board president

Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking

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