‘Why didn’t you (just) press charges?’

I’d like to give some attention on my blog (maybe regularly) to some ‘annoying’ statements. Or actually, statements that (maybe) shouldn’t have been made at all. Statements, that when people actually thought about it, they probably would be ashamed. For now, I’d like to start with which I think is one of the worst. I’m always shocked when someone dares to say this to a victim/survivor. In this case it’s about victims/survivors of rape and in this case it’s about the response people (including professionals) give when they know about it. I find it one of the most offensive questions someone can ask me.

‘Why didn’t you just press charges’, may also include ‘If it really happed, you would have’ or ‘it’s your fault if he attacks someone else too, because you didn’t press charges’.

I actually assume I don’t have to explain you guys why this is just awful. But in case someone visits my blog, who doesn’t have experience with traumatized people, I’ll try to explain. I think this is one of the most horrible things you can say, when someone just (or even when you already knew it for a longer time) told you about what happened. It’s an insult. It shows how little you know about how weak the system is and how difficult it is for someone to go through all that. Because (at least in the Netherlands, but I assume everywhere) they treat you as if you’re the culprit. They treat you like you’re lying, that’s according to their protocol. When you say something like this, so inconsiderate, for me it shows that you 1. don’t really care/didn’t really listen. 2. don’t understand at all what’s going on and how tough this must be for the person telling you and how awful that situation must have been 3. you question if that person’s telling the truth, especially when you add the ‘if it was real, you would’ve pressed charges. Why wouldn’t you otherwise?’ And it’s never the victim/survivor’s fault, because even when you press charges the change is very big the culprit will go out free. You can’t just put your frustration on the victim/survivor and blame his/her by saying (to me it kinda feels like a threat actually) that it will be his/her fault when the culprit attacks again. We can’t control other people.
I also think a lot of people want to hold on to their illusions (I mentioned the illusion of safety in a previous blogpost). People don’t really want to think about it, don’t want to imagine it, because it’s too awful. And it could make them realise their illusion of safety isn’t completely correct, because you probably were at the wrong place at the wrong time too. You definetely didn’t plan this. So it could happen to them too, even when that has like a 1% chance, it still breaks their illusion a little bit. But when people are stubborn and just don’t accept this happened to you, don’t want to listen this results in a lot of incomprehension when they respond like this (often people will blame you, because then they have more ‘security’ it won’t happen to them).


[Picture of a woman talking to a police officer behind a desk]

I think every person is allowed to decide for his/herself if he’s willing to go through the fuss of pressing charges. Of course there are advantages and disadvantages for both choices, but I find that there’s hardly any information on the disadvantages of pressing charges. Every website I visit will urge you to go to the police, or urge friends/family to urge the person to go to the police. I really admire it if you could press charges, but I don’t think someone who didn’t is a loser or a liar. It also depends on the situation for example, if you can press charges at all. This, because you need substantial evidence. ‘Just your word’ of people testifying you mentioned these things or even some objects or sperm for example, isn’t substantial enough. It’s incredibly difficult to prove that it was unwillingly and the culprit can talk his way out of almost everything (for example: she likes to be tied down). In the Netherlands for example, you are video-taped when you are being questioned (alone) by the police about what happened. Despite the fact that it’s awful to have to relive everything and the person you’re talking too is trying to find holes in your story, I find the video-taping very  degrading too. They do this, so they can later check your face again when you tell certain things. The party your pressing charges against, is also allowed to watch the video, so they can prepare their story and maybe find ‘weak links’ in your story as well. I find that appalling. And then I’m not talking about the risks/dangers it might involve. And maybe the culprit will spread it’s own story and then in the media or on the streets people will already call you a liar. When that’s not true, that’s such an awful thing to hear. You already didn’t ask for the crime to happen to you anyway!

I think the current system is too much in advantage of the culprits. Of course there are some people who lie this happened, but I think this is so much less than the people who are honest or don’t press charges because the whole process is so degrading and the chances are so slim that it will work. I saw some statistics a couple months ago and they said that it’s thought that 10% of all rapes are being mentioned to the police. 3% of that the police try to investigate (the others already don’t have enough substantial evidence to begin with). 2% of that 3% goes to trial. And then there was again something of 1, 2 or 3% when the culprit is punished. They also said the amount of wrongly accused culprits was 1% or something like that. Wrongly accused could also mean that a higher court said there wasn’t enough evidence, so it didn’t happen. Then, you wrongly accused the culprit (even though most of the time the person doesn’t actually wrongly accuse the culprit).

Ugh, I wanted to tell you more about this, but I can’t right now. It’s making me feel to much disgust and sadness and anger. I thought after so many years walking around thinking this, I might be ready to talk about it. Apparently I’m not (except with my partner). I just hope everyone will realise that pressing charges isn’t always the best thing to do. That’s why the police often advice against it actually. Even physical evidence can still not be enough (sperm doesn’t say if it was rape or willingly) and sometimes video also isn’t. Because you weren’t allowed to video tape it, or you could be playing etc.

I just think it’s nobody’s business why someone does or doesn’t press charges. If you’d like to help someone make up his/her mind, by making a list of the pros and cons for that particular situation, that might be helpful (but you should ask the person first). However, you never do that by saying the quotes I mentioned before. That’s just really insulting and can break each other’s trust.

I find it brave when you press charges, but also when you don’t. But really, it shouldn’t matter what other people think about it.

Photo source


19 thoughts on “‘Why didn’t you (just) press charges?’

  1. I’m pretty sure I would be guilty on this if I faced the circumstances, but it would be from outrage of what was done to the person. It is horrible how victims are treated. We clearly don’t have a clue as what goes on with each other and as a result, say a lot of stupid stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand. At the beginning, in your anger, you just want that everything is done to punish the person who hurt the person you care about. But eventually when you talk about it and list all possible consequences (good or bad) and options, it might be best for that person you care about to “do nothing”. And I understand if that might be difficult to accept (for both the survivor and the people surrounding him/her). But it’s no excuse for people to just keep ‘pushing’ about it. But I’m certain you’re not like that 😉
      And really the term ‘doing nothing’ does no justice to what you actually do, when you make a decision like that.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi there,
    Eurgh! It makes my blood boil when people are so ignorant..I’m sorry you are getting such comments!
    You are completely right..Nobody can tell you what you should have or shouldn’t have done..I for one had a minor sexual assault and went to the police cos the guy lived in the block next to my house. They did nothing but take my winter coat off me for DNA..I was then without a coat for 3 months (had to buy another one), and each officer who took over the case (different shifts) took to long to respond to a 2nd emergency call I made when I saw the guy again, 5 min away from the police station.It was incredibly difficult to have to relive what happened in excruciating detail and then going back to ask for my coat back was such a lengthy and stressful process..I was suffering from PTSD after this incident, on top of my complex PTSD..and unless there is substancial evidence etc…they don’t do anything!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m very sorry you had to go through this yourself. It’s ridiculous what they did (and didn’t do). And they made it even worse with the coat.. Sadly, it’s ‘normal’. Here they discourage people to press charges because the process is very painful and hardly succesful. I don’t understand why the ‘process’ isn’t changed. They’ve refused people who wanted to press charges, who even had video evidence (because it happened outside a bar). It’s all so sad and sickening.. They indeed do nothing or some make it even worse with unthoughtful comments and procedures. I hope it will change one day. Now it’s like a free pass for all the culprits, because the chance they get a sentence in court is about 1%. Most don’t even get it to the court.


    1. I’m sorry you had to go throught that. Yes, you’re still treated by most people if you did something wrong. Otherwise it wouldn’t have happened, right? Since it only happens once every 10 years on the entire globe or so. Or that’s what they like to think. Because of this, I prefer to keep it silent. Hardly anyone knows, but that’s the best for me. I couldn’t stand all the accusations and other negative comments (made the mistake of telling a ‘friend’ once who took the side of the culprit). But at the same time I don’t want to keep silent, I want to change the situation, the procedures etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was fifteen and he was my doctor. In his forties and married. He drugged me and then raped me while I was helpless to fight back. I did scream, though. A nurse heard me and tried to get into his office but the door was locked. He yelled through the door that I was screaming due to therapy and to go away. He apparently gave me too much of the drug because afterward I collapsed on the floor with no pulse. Two nurses revived me. They checked my underwear and saw that I had been raped. They called the police. The police investigated and found tape recordings, audio recordings, in the doctor’s desk of his rapes. I was not the only one. The doctor was fired by the hospital and prosecuted. Two of his friends — one another doctor, one a social worker — came and told me that *I* had ruined the life of a wonderful man with my “lurid sexuality.” I was fifteen! He was my doctor. He drugged me and nearly killed me. And still it was my fault!!


  3. My god, that’s awful!! I’m glad those nurses checked on you and there was ‘real evidence’, so at least he could be fired and prosecuted. But stil… And I can’t imagine how tough and horrible the whole process with the investigation must have been.

    Those two people are so wrong and so unprofessional and not human. Friends of people like that can be very cruel. You know they’re wrong, but it still hurts when they say things like that.

    Did you follow the news about his trial and his sentence? I’m not sure if it’s better to completely lock yourself from the person who did that, or if you could watch it a little for your own safety… I hope he’ll never get free again.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmm.. I’m not sure what to think of that. On one hand you could say that now you can be certain he can’t hurt anyone anymore, so you could be ‘glad’. On the other hand it seems like an easy way out for him and might feel as he still never has been punished for his deeds..

        Liked by 1 person

      2. When I was told that he had committed suicide, my feelings were very mixed. Still are, although it happened many years ago. I found his memorial on find-a-grave (dot) com a few years ago. There was just one memorial message there. It said: “This man was my father. He never had any time for me. Rest in peace. ~Anonymous”

        I recently looked at that site again and that message has been taken away. Now there are no messages. Only his picture is still there, looking confident and condescending.

        I couldn’t help thinking that his anonymous daughter was so much better off with him “having no time” for her.

        Liked by 1 person

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