ALL NEWS

Advocates: Criminal justice system can be traumatic for sexual assault survivors

Apr 16, 2021, 5:33 PM

joyce yost survivors of sexual assault help for rape victims...

Joyce Yost made the difficult decision to report her rape because she worried her attacker could victimize others. Photo courtesy of the Joyce Yost family.

SALT LAKE CITY — The criminal justice system isn’t just difficult to navigate for survivors of sexual assault; it can be traumatic. 

Victims often choose to avoid reporting sexual assault in order to avoid that trauma, focusing on healing rather than justice. 

“Over 80% of victims — survivors of sexual assault, do not report to the police,” said Sonia Martinez-Ortiz, the executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, during Episode 2 of Talking Cold, the podcast that delves into the issues raised in the Cold Podcast. “And we must ask ourselves why? Why is that number so high?”

Why many sexual assault survivors don’t report

In a new episode of “Talking Cold,” Martinez-Ortiz and victim’s rights attorney Bethany Warr offered insight into why so many survivors of sexual assault choose not to report what happened to them to police. Among the reasons are the stigma and shame associated with any sex crime; there is also the judgment survivors endure from friends and families to police and prosecutors. 

Joyce Yost, whose story is chronicled in COLD Season 2, went from fighting with her rapist to trying to negotiate and even sympathize with him. In her police interview, she worried investigators might misunderstand her decision to stop fighting and to try and stay alive.

Related: Communication breakdown between law enforcement failed Joyce Yost

“Negotiating is not consent,” Martinez-Ortiz said. “This is actually a very typical trauma response. So many folks have probably heard the term like fight or flight in trauma response — so there’s actually fight, flight, freeze and fawn. …This is an example of fawn, which is essentially where the person experiencing the trauma will seek for ways to negotiate to make themselves more likable, to please the person in hopes that that will reduce the harm. In some cases like this one, [it] will actually prevent them from being killed.”

Survivors victimized all over again

Attorney Warr said that retelling the story of a sexual assault can be far too painful. Oftentimes, the focus is on the victim’s behavior and decisions, rather than the accused. That can lead to more shame and more guilt for survivors.

“So the victimization continues throughout the process,” she said, listing off the issues survivors face as they attempt to hold an attacker accountable. “I will say in terms of sexual assault, I don’t have one client that’s ever told me they were glad that they reported it. … A vast majority of clients, if they say anything, they say, ‘I wish I never, ever would have even started this process.'”

Talking about sexual assault

Both Warr and Martinez-Ortiz said discussing consent and boundaries is critical to prevention. 

“Some folks get really fearful when you start saying, ‘Talk to kids younger,'” she said. “We don’t have to talk to first-graders about sex, but we should start by talking about body autonomy. … Those are things that we engage in as a culture that we don’t realize. We’ll set the foundation as folks start to get older and understand about developing healthy relationships, body autonomy and boundaries. … If we wait until the high school curriculum, it’s too late.”

Asked how we continued to move toward as a society more supportive and empathetic to survivors, she said we need to keep talking about tough, uncomfortable issues.

“We keep talking to people like yourself, who are willing to have the conversations with us,” Martinez-Ortiz said. “And the goal really is that you take those into your households. You take them to your kitchen tables and yourself as in your car rides, to school and to sports and to dance. You have these conversations with the people who are closest in your life, and that is prevention.”

Free resources and help with sexual abuse are available 24/7 at RAINN.org.  You can also call 800-856-HOPE (4673).

How to listen

Listen to COLD and Talking Cold for free, no subscription required, on Amazon Music.  You can find bonus content, including videos, pictures and case materials at the COLD website.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

All News

Snowy weather on Northern Utah roads....

Derrick Jones

Live updates on Utah’s snowy roads

SALT LAKE CITY — The Wasatch Front is getting hammered by winds, snow and low visibility Saturday. With snowy conditions, come snowy roads.Check here for updates on road conditions. The National Weather Service has posted on X that snow is all across northern Utah. 4 pm Radar Update – Widespread Snowfall is encompassing northern Utah […]

58 minutes ago

Dusk on the last day of the 2024 legislative session at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Frida...

Bridger Beal-Cvetko

The Utah 2024 Legislative Session is over. Here’s what lawmakers did

Utah lawmakers made the most out of the 2024 general legislative session, passing 591 bills, surpassing last year's previous high of 575.

3 hours ago

Tumbleweeds surround an Eagle Mountain home on March 2, 2024. (Photo credit: Brennen Katsos)...

Josh Ellis

High winds hit Wasatch Front as storm moves in

Winds will continue to increase over western Utah valleys Saturday ahead of a front and spread into southern Utah.

3 hours ago

A lone camper truck moves north bound on the I-80 at the Donner Pass Exit on Friday, March 1, 2024,...

SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press

Blizzard ‘as bad as it gets’ hits California, Nevada. Strip of I-80 shut down

The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning through Sunday for a 300-mile stretch of the mountain range.

3 hours ago

Five pine trees were taken down by the wind in front of Denise Cable's house on March 2, 2024....

Kennedy Camarena and Emma Keddington

Winter weather on the move in Utah: What to expect Saturday

Throughout the weekend on March 2 and 3, wind and winter weather will be kicking up a major storm. This is where you can stay updated on the storm.

6 hours ago

ksl movie show review host steve salles next to outlaw posse poster...

Steve Salles

KSL Movie Show review: ‘Outlaw Posse’ goes off the rails, loses storyline

In this KSL Movie Show review, we travel back in time to the wacky western world of "Outlaw Posse."

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Advocates: Criminal justice system can be traumatic for sexual assault survivors