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Reporting Sexual Assault to the Police in Hawaii, July 2000

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2001
55 pages
Publication Series
This research report investigated variables facilitating and hindering the reporting of sexual assault to police in the State of Hawaii, and assessed the implications for treatment centers and criminal justice agencies.
The complexity of decision-making about reporting sexual assault to the police called for a systematic measurement of a number of key variables relating both to the assault and the victim. This study, a collaborative effort of the Sex Abuse Treatment Center (SATC) in Honolulu, Hawaii, the Social Science Research Institute of the University of Hawaii, and the Hawaii State Department of the Attorney General, had several objectives which included: (1) development of a statistical profile of reporting versus non-reporting sexual assault victims; (2) exploration of factors that affected decisions to report or not report an assault to the police; (3) facilitate the design of effective interventions by sexual assault treatment centers and community education projects to encourage reporting; and (4) present and discuss reporting implications for community policing and other criminal justice initiatives. The study sample consisted of 709 female victims of non-incestuous assault, 14 years or older, and treated at the SATC within one year of the assault. The sample was classified into two groups, Immediate Treatment Seekers (ITS) (sought treatment within 72 hours of assault) and Delayed Treatment Seekers (DTS) (sought treatment after 72 hours of assault). A description of sexual assault victims revealed the largest age category was 20-29, the largest ethnic group was Caucasian, and about half of the victims worked full-time. Characteristics of sexual assault victims revealed; victims were typically assaulted by someone they knew, the majority were assaulted by one assailant, assaults frequently occurred in the victim’s home or hotel or in the assailant’s home or hotel, and most assaults involved sexual penetration. Two statistical analyses were conducted on the entire victim sample and both the ITS and DTS samples. First, the bivariate analysis showed the relationship between a single independent variable and the multivariate analysis examined more than one independent variable simultaneously. The bivariate analysis found the victim’s ethnicity and educational status distinguished reporting from non-reporting. Specific characteristics of the assault were also noted as important: relationship to the assailant, location of assault, use of weapon, physical force, and threats to harm or kill the victim. Victims using active resistance were significantly more likely to report the assault to the police. The multivariate analysis found seven variables that positively correlated with reporting to the police among women receiving treatment at the SATC. They were: (1) the assailant threatened to harm or kill the victim; (2 )the victim attempted to flee and escape the attacker; (3) the victim yelled or screamed for help; (4) the victim tried to trick or fool assailant; (4) the victim sustained no physical injury, in addition to the sexual assault; (5) the victim was a member of a non-Asian ethnic group; and (6) the victim attributed no or low self-blame to herself for the attack. Variables showing no significant correlation with reporting to the police were: (1) the assailant’s relationship to the victim; (2) the number of assailants; (3) the assailant’s use of a weapon; (4) the assailant’s use of physical force; (5) the assailant deceived the victim; (6) the location of the assault was in a public place; (7) the victim attempted to deter the attack by physical resistance; and (8) the victim tried to plead with or talk to the assailant. A logistic regression analysis on both the ITS and DTS victims showed sexual assault reporting higher among ITS victims when: (1) the assailant used a weapon; (2) the assailant threatened to harm or kill the victim; (3) the victim attempted to flee and escape; (4) the victim yelled or scream for help; (5) the victim was a member of a non-Asian ethnic group; and (6) the victim attributed no or low self-blame to herself for the assault. Variables positively correlated with reporting sexual assault in the DTS group were: (1) the assailant was a stranger; (2) the assailant threatened to harm or kill the victim; (3) the victim tried to trick or fool the assailant; (4) the victim did not plead with the assailant; and (5) the victim attributed no or low self-blame to herself for the sexual assault. For both ITS and DTS victims, reporting was significantly increased when the victim was threatened by the assailant and decreased when victim attributed a high level of blame on herself for the assault. DTS victims were more reluctant to report an assault when assaulted by someone they knew. DTS victims were less likely to define the assault as a crime or felt less confident that the police would believe them and therefore, were less likely to report the crime to the police and delay treatment. The reporting rates of women treated at the SATC were 70.7 percent for the entire group, 78.4 percent for the ITS group, and only 47.8 percent for the DTS group. The report suggests a grant proposal for a demonstration project with an evaluation component, in cooperation with other agencies, to augment, support, and inform current educational outreach efforts. This would increase available information about sexual assault, improving the public’s perception and increasing the likelihood of immediate treatment seeking and police reporting. Tables, references, and appendix

Date Published: July 1, 2001