Why do sexual assault survivors wait to come forward?

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- In the past two months, dozens of people have come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct.

The first big case hit Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Others facing claims in recent days include Senate candidate Roy Moore, comedian Louis C.K., actor Kevin Spacey and President George H.W. Bush.

So why are potential victims waiting months, years and even decades to speak up?

Sexual assault experts say after being assaulted survivors are in a state of shock and fear.

"In a traumatized situation, your brain is pretty much on survival mode, and you're going to think about the things you need to do: eat, sleep, you know, things like that. They want to have a support system. A lot of women are afraid or men are afraid somebody's not going to believe them," said Dana Stueber, R.N., Coordinator of the St. Vincent Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner's Program in Green Bay, Wis.

In most cases of sexual assault, experts say survivors know their attacker.

"That relationship dynamic, worrying about you know how other people are going to perceive that situation, worrying about what the aftermath is going to look like," said Chelsey Steffens, an advocate with the Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin Sexual Assault Center.

Steffens says for survivors of sexual assault, it's better to come in right away. More evidence can be collected when they haven't showered, brushed their hair or teeth and still wearing the same clothes. A head to toe examination is still possible even after five days after an assault.

"Once they can get a good night's sleep, maybe get a support system, tell people that believe them and support them, then they're able to go that next step to do an evidence collection if they want to," said Stueber.

Now survivors are using social media to empower others to come forward, and Steffens says the social media push is playing a huge encouraging role.

"They feel empowered when they see those things on the internet, however we also have to remember that they do not need to share their story," said Steffens.



 
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