Victims of sexual abuse often are afraid to come forward, experts and advocates say, especially when they are attacked by someone in a position of power.
On Monday, Beverly Young Nelson of Anniston became the fifth woman to claim that U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore had made advances toward them in the 1970s and 1980s when they were in their teens. Nelson told reporters at a news conference in New York that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16 and he was 30 outside the Gadsden restaurant where she worked in 1977. Moore, now 70, was a prosecutor for the Etowah County District Attorney’s office at the time.
Trace Fleming of 2nd Chance, an Anniston nonprofit that helps victims of domestic and sexual violence, said that victims often don’t come forward for years, if ever, and that perpetrators of sexual assaults often hide behind positions of power.
“Sexual violence is so connected to someone’s personal experience that it can be really mortifying to come forward,” Fleming said. “And you have a society and culture that is geared toward not believing survivors of these crimes.”
Fleming said victims are often asked by parents, partners, neighbors and others questions such as “Why did you go there? What did you do? Why did you let them?”
“Those ‘why, why, why’ questions make it so much more difficult to come forward,” Fleming said.
If the person who committed the crime is someone in a position of power, coming forward can be even more difficult, Fleming said.
“Predators love being people who are well-liked. They love being people who are popular and who are involved in their community,” Fleming said. “It’s these people who are well-liked and popular who create that much more doubt when someone comes forward.”
The Washington Post last week published a story outlining claims against Moore by four women. Soon after The Post article was published, Moore, his supporters and some lawmakers attacked the women’s accounts. Moore has called The Post’s story “fake news” and threatened to sue the newspaper.
"Maybe there is some legal prosecution for lying and interfering with a political process. But probably not,” Henry told AL.com. “I would suspect there would be some type of litigation and lawsuits coming at some point. I don't believe them.”
Jennifer Weems, an Anniston attorney who worked for eight years as a prosecutor of sex crimes for the Calhoun County District Attorney’s Office, said that it’s difficult for victims to speak about such crimes because “there is always the humiliation and shame that comes with sexual abuse. They often blame themselves. Most feel that they participated.”
Weems said that when the person who committed the sexual assault is someone in a position of power, it’s even more difficult for victims to come forward.
“The victim would be concerned that they would be less likely to be believed, if everyone that they know believes this person to be good,” Weems said.
Fleming said she’s heard time and again from victims who ask “Who would believe me?”
“If somebody comes to you and says this crime happened to me, start with believing,” Fleming said. “Respond in an incredibly kind way, because that was probably one of the bravest things that you’ll ever witness.”
How a person responds to a person who tells them they’ve been sexually assaulted is critical, Fleming said, because “you may be the first person that they talk to about it. If you respond badly, you may be the last person.”
Survivors of sexual assault can get help locally by calling 2nd Chance at 256-236-7233 or by calling the National Sexual Violence Crisis Hotline at 800-656-HOPE.