The Reporting Process and Why Survivors Don’t Get Legal Justice: Space To Speak x Zenerations

Prepared by @zenerations & @spacetospeakorg

Trigger Warning: violence, sexual abuse, assault, rape, molestation

Space to Speak is a community of ardent Generation Z students fighting rape culture by sharing our stories, empowering each other, and shaping the curriculum for the next generation. In collaboration with Zenerations, the two youth-led organizations worked together to develop a structured guide detailing the process of reporting sexual assault as a minor, costs and rights, case histories, pros and cons of reporting, changes to the New Title IX policy, and the unfortunate reasons why survivors don’t get the justice they deserve.

Read to stay informed and share with those who might need it, and for additional readings and information, refer to the links to at the bottom of the article. Follow @SpaceToSpeakOrg on Instagram and stay up to date on their campaigns, resources, events, and works!

The Process

  • Civil
    • Pursue monetary and non-criminal penalties. 
    • Lower evidence threshold, as the standard for winning a case is, essentially, that the act was more likely to have happened than to have not happened
    • In a civil case, the survivor (or group of survivors) has access to an attorney of their choice
  • Criminal – 
    • Perpetrators may recieve jail time, probation, and potentail sex offender registration. 
    • Higher evidence threshold, as in order to convict, a judge or jury needs to be convinced that the crime happened “beyond a reasonable doubt”. 
    • In criminal cases, the state acts on behalf of the survivor.
    • Example: Survivors have launched civil cases against colleges and universities for failing to act on or encouraging sexual violence, but this would not be possible in a criminal case, as the college itself did not commit an act of sexual violence.

Rights and Costs

  • When reporting sexual assault, there are several outlets that victims have the right to use. These include calling 911 in the case of immediate danger, contacting a local police department or campus-based law enforcement, and visiting a medical center where you can choose to tell a medical professional that you want to report the assault. 
  • When speaking with law enforcement, you have the right to:
    • Wait as long as you want before going in to report the crime. There is no time limit on deciding whether reporting is what you want to do.
    • Have privacy in a quiet area away from others, and the right to ask to be relocated to a more comfortable place. 
    • Take a break for water or a minute to breathe if the reporting process becomes uncomfortable at any point, which should be accommodated by present law enforcement.
    • Go up the chain; if you feel your complaint is not receiving the proper attention, you can request to speak to a supervisor or higher-ranking officer.
    • Have a trained advocate present. This can be arranged by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which may be able to connect you with someone who is trained to be supportive while speaking to law enforcement. 
    • Have a friend, family member, or partner present. 
  • You have the right to have a sexual assault forensic exam, also known as a rape kit. 
    • The Debbie Smith Act of 2004 aids in eliminating unanalyzed DNA evidence, also known as a backlog. Each state is required to create plans for the reduction of backlogs, ensuring that your rape kit will  be processed in a timely manner and can be used to achieve justice in crimes of sexual violence.
  • In all 50 states, minors have the right to consent to STI services.
  • Costs
    • Upon choosing to have a sexual assault medical forensic exam, you should not be charged as a protection under the Violence Against Women Act. States should provide sexual assault forensic exams free of charge to remain eligible for federal grant funding. Charging for an exam is illegal and victims can contact local sexual assault service providers if they receive a bill. 

Three Pros and Three Cons to Reporting

t’s common for survivors to question whether or not they should contact law enforcement and report their assault. Some believe they should report right away, but there are many reasons why a survivor may not immediately (or ever) report the crime. Reporting isn’t the right decision for every survivor.

  • Pros: 
    • Holding a perpetrator accountable can provide the survivor justice 
    • Reporting can empower a survivor, giving them back control and reaffirming that what happened was not their fault
    • Creating a record for the perpetrator will make it harder for them to hurt someone else in the future
  • Cons:
    • Unsupportive police officers, administrators, lawyers, judges will worsen the situation 
    • Repeated questioning often leads to reliving the traumatic experience
    • Reporting doesn’t guarantee that the perpetrator will be found guilty

For information on reporting to law enforcement, visit RAINN (

Case History

  • People v. Turner: In 2015, Brock Turner, a Stanford student sexually assaulted 22-year-old Chanel Miller. Although Miller chose to remain anonymous in court documents and throughout the trial, she has since spoken out about her experience. At the conclusion of the trial in late March of 2016, Turner was convicted of three charges of felony sexual assault. Prior to his sentencing, Chanel Miller read a victim impact statement to the court in which she said “[t]he fact that Brock was a star athlete at a prestigious university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency but as an opportunity to send a strong cultural message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class.” Despite this, Turner was sentenced to only six months in jail and three years of probation. He served only three months of his prison sentence before being released. Now, Chanel Miller is an outspoken advocate for survivors and has written a memoir detailing her experiences: Know My Name
  • Larry Nassar: Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics national team doctor, became a household name in 2015 when he was accused of assaulting at least 250 girls dating back to 1992. His behavior was reported by the gymnasts early in the 90s, but USA Gymnastics didn’t take any action for 25 years. Nassar was eventually sentenced to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual assault of minors. One month later, he was sentenced to serve another consecutive sentence of 40-125 years in prison after pleading guilty to an additional three charges of sexual assault. Many of the survivors of Nassar’s abuse are now speaking out about their experiences and the toxic environment created by USA Gymnastics. This includes Olympic gymnast, Aly Raisman, said at Nassar’s sentencing “[m]y dream is that one day everyone will know what the words #MeToo signify. But they will be educated and be able to protect themselves from predators like Larry so that they will never ever, ever have to say the words ‘me, too.’” 
  • Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson: Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson is a historic Supreme Court ruling from 1986 that recognized sexual harassment as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mechelle Vinson was hired as a trainee-teller in 1974 and one year later, her supervisor Sidney Taylor began what would become 3 years of repeated sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. In court, Vinson would later argue that Taylor’s actions created a hostile work environment and a form of unlawful discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Supreme Court sided with Vinson in a 9-0 ruling that signified the start of a movement against workplace harassment. 

New Title IX

In May of 2020 USA Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos changed the Title IX policy. Not only do these changes limit the response to sexual violence schools need to adhere to, they also attack survivor rights. Below is an outline of the New Title IX Regulations: 

  • Students are now required to prove repeated escalating levels of sexual violence offennces in order to file a charge for sexual violence and seek their schools help in filling the case
  • Schools are no longer required to investigate reports of sexual violence outside occuring outside of campus including reports from: off campus programs, frat parties, and online.
  • The 60 day timeline guidance has been lifted meaning schools can extend investigations for months and in some cases tears 
  • Schools can now use infromal resolution processes such as mediation isntead of investigating reports of sexual violence 
  • Students will no longer be able to file a report against an abuser if they do not attend the same school as their perpetrator 
  • The new legislation will additionally require cross-examination meaning survivors can be directly questions by their perpetrators representative 

Why Survivors Don’t Get Legal Justice

  • Over 80% of survivors never report their experiences to the police.
    • Fear of not being believed, retribution, retraumatization, and believing that they will be let down by the criminal justice system. 
  • Only 8% of cases reported to police are actually taken to trial. 
    • Lack of physical evidence, inconsistency in laws leading to inability to prosecute, the statute of limitations. 
  • Survivors are forced to relive their trauma in court, especially in cross-examination. 
    • Attempts to undermine credibility of a survivor, accusing the survivor of lying. 
  • Rape culture perpetuates the myth that survivors should stay silent about their assault. 

Additional Readings

If you are looking to continue educating yourself, the following are readings on sexual assault legislation, the evolution of the definition of sexual assault and rape, resources for survivors, and more.

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