Chapter 8: Why Survivors Don’t Report

Balbir Gurm and Jennifer Marchbank

Key Messages

  • About 70% of domestic violence is never reported to the police. Even more alarming, only 5% of cases of sexual assault in BC are reported to the police.
  • There are many reasons why survivors don’t report, ranging from fear, to geographical location and access to services, to gender and age, to minority considerations, to name a few.
  • This chapter provides information on an important aspect of relationship violence that is often not understood or misjudged by family and community, which is to identify some of the reasons why a survivor may not report the abuse/violence.
  • The reasons why women or men stay in violent relationships are described, and the overlapping experiences are identified. These reasons underpin the need to make changes at individual, family, community and institutional levels in order to reduce and end violence in intimate relationships.
  • There are many reasons for not reporting. It is time to switch the question from why do victims not leave to why do people abuse? And why does society continue to normalize and accept relationship violence? Society still continues to blame the victim and question their behaviour.

Relationship violence is any form of physical, emotional, spiritual and financial abuse, negative social control or coercion that is suffered by anyone that has a bond or relationship with the offender. In the literature, we find words such as intimate partner violence (IPV), neglect, dating violence, family violence, battery, child neglect, child abuse, bullying, seniors or elder abuse, male violence, stalking, cyberbullying, strangulation, technology-facilitated coercive control, honour killing, female genital mutilation gang violence and workplace violence. In couples, violence can be perpetrated by women and men in opposite-sex relationships (Carney et al., 2007), within same-sex relationships (Rollè et al., 2018) and in relationships where the victim is LGBTQ2SAI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, Two-Spirit, intersex and asexual plus (The Scottish Trans Alliance, 2010; Rollè et al., 2018). Relationship violence is a result of multiple impacts such as taken for granted inequalities, policies and practices that accept sexism, racism, ageism, xenophobia and homophobia. It can span the entire age spectrum. It may start in-utero and end with death. It is a global epidemic, but those impacted do not report the crime.

Why do survivors not report?

There are many policies and legislation addressing RV, yet individuals are frequently hesitant to report it and to seek help. Often society asks why partners do not leave abusive relationships, instead of asking why does the perpetrator abuse or why does society accepts relationship violence? Two major theories of help-seeking—survivor theory and process model—explain how survivors, for instance, cope when experiencing RV.

The survivor theory describes the ways in which survivors actively cope with RV. These include repeated attempts to access informal and formal resources like talking to a close friend or looking for a supportive agency (Gondolf & Fisher, 1988).

The process model describes the efforts of survivors to try to reduce or end the violence. It includes recognizing the problem and trying to find solutions to it. Once the problem is recognized, survivors often try strategies that they believe will help to end the violence (Campbell et al., 1998).

Although these theories show patterns and strategies used by survivors, it is not enough to expect that RV can be diminished or even eradicated without considering why people become offenders, and how and why society reinforces and accepts RV (see chapter 6). According to the British Columbia Legal Society, survivors’ (women) help-seeking behaviours in heterosexual relationships involve concerns that include:

      • Believe or hope that the abuse will end
      • The “make-up” period after violence reassures them or strengthens their emotional bond with their partner
      • Victims depend on their partner—to pay the bills, take care of them, or for other help
      • Fear that their partner will become even more violent if they leave
      • Fear for the safety of their children and other loved ones
      • Fear that their children will be taken into government care
      • Fear of losing their home
      • Fear for the safety of their pets or farm animals
      • Fear that no one will believe that the abuse happened
      • They are isolated from their family and friends, and part of the abuse may have been to ensure their isolation
      • They do not feel they have the support they need
      • Fear of being deported or of losing their immigration status
      • They do not know about their rights or the help that is available
      • Fear of the legal system
      • They feel pressure from their family or friends to stay
      • They feel pressure or blame from their community
      • They live in a rural area with few services and supports available
      • They live in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business (Feindel & Roulette, 2010, p. 14)
      • They do not want to bring shame to their families, they want to save face (Holmes & Hunt, 2017)

West Coast Leaf (2018) report We Are Here: Women’s Experiences of the Barriers to Reporting Sexual Assault shows that only 5% of cases of sexual assault in BC are reported to the police by those who identify as women and that a lack of training of those in the justice system was a significant barrier to reporting. Prochuck (2018) acknowledges that “sexual assault is a form of gender-based violence that disproportionately harms not only women, but also Two-Spirit people, gender non-conforming people, trans people of all genders (not only women), intersex people, and people with non-binary gender identities” (p. 7).

The reasons for not reporting sexual assault are below (Prochuck, 2018).

      • Consider the crime as minor and not worth reporting (71%)
      • The incident was a private or personal matter and was handled informally (67%)
      • Did not want the hassle of dealing with the police (45%)
      • There was a lack of evidence (43%)
      • Believe that the offender wouldn’t be convicted or adequately punished (40%)
      • Believe that the offender did not intend to cause harm (39%)
      • Fear the court process or didn’t want the hassle of going to court (34%)
      • Did not want to get the offender in trouble (30%)
      • Did not want others to know about the assault (30%)
      • Believe that police wouldn’t have been effective (26%)
      • Fear retaliation by the offender (22%)
      • Believed police wouldn’t have located the offender (21%)
      • Past experiences with police had been unsatisfactory (13%)
      • Believe that police would be biased (13%)
      • Felt that reporting would bring shame and dishonour to the family (12%) 

There is an overlap between the reasons why women and men stay in abusive relationships. Below is a list of reasons why men stay :

      • Fear that they would not be believed (Hines & Douglas, 2014; Demsey, 2013)
      • Not knowing of any services that could help (Hines & Douglas, 2014; Demsey, 2013)
      • Lack of accessible services to support abused men (Demsey, 2013)
      • Embarrassment and fear of being disbelieved Demsey, 2013)
      • Shame because the “public story” of domestic abuse that only males perpetrate abuse that violate(s) the rules of hegemonic masculinity  (Connell, 2005) It may be similar to LGBQT+ individuals
      • Do not recognize it as abuse and normalize the behaviour (Demsey, 2013)

Below are the reasons why men stay from a booklet created by the Government of Alberta (n.d.). Whether or not there are children involved, a man may stay in an abusive situation because:

      • He feels afraid or guilty
      • He feels he is financially insecure
      • He feels a sense of obligation to his female partner
      • He wants to honour his religious convictions or cultural expectations
      • His partner reminds him of religious convictions or cultural expectations
      • He still has hope for the relationship
      • He feels ashamed to admit he is being abused

A man with children may stay in the relationship because

      • He doesn’t want to lose access to his children
      • He doesn’t want to leave the children with his abusive partner
      • He may not trust the courts to handle child custody fairly
      • He doesn’t want to be the one that “breaks up” the family

To learn more about the experience of men that are abused see chapter 18.

Burnes et al. (2019) estimated that only 15.4% of older adults report to police. Some of the reasons are:

      • Fear of revictimization- the most prevalent reason
      • Embarrassment
      • Fear
      • Denial
      • Isolation
      • Lack of resources
      • Lack of knowledge about reporting procedures (Burnes et al., 2019)

To learn more about the older adult’s experience of abuse, go to chapter 17.

Indigenous people do not report for many of the same reasons as others but also because of generational trauma and toxic stress. Some reasons why they do not access services are:

      • Low awareness of them
      • Their distance from the home community
      • The lack of transportation
      • Poor relationships with the police
      • Lack of faith in the effectiveness of the resources
      • Lack of privacy in communities and the consequent shame about accessing resources
      • Complex relationships among the victim, the abuser, their families and other community members
      • The desire to keep the family intact at all costs (because of fear of the unknown and of losing face, as well as the possibility of losing one’s children, home and assets) (Public Health Agency of Canada, n.d.)

Learn more about the historical trauma of Indigenous populations and RV in chapter 19.

There are no statistics on why LGBTQ2SIA+ do not report but these are some of the reasons they do not  access services:

    • Not aware of services
    • Judgement by service providers
    • Non-inclusive language
    • Fear of being outed
    • Unsafe practices by agencies (Center for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, 2015)

See chapter 20 for a fuller discussion of LGBTQ2SIA+ persons and RV.

Similarly, other minorities that also do not report in high numbers are refugees and immigrants. They have similar reasons to others, but some specific reasons are:

    • Fear of deportation
    • Lack of trust in the police
    • Language challenges
    • Not aware of services
    • Not aware that it is a crime
    • Accept it as normal

To learn more about the immigrant and refugee population, go to chapter 21.

There are many reasons for not reporting. It is time to switch the question from why do victims not leave to why do people abuse? And why does society continue to normalize and accept relationship violence? Society still continues to blame the victim and question their behaviour.

Vulnerable groups like children and older adults experience further challenges because they are often dependent on a family adult who might be perpetrating violence. Visible minority groups like Indigenous peoples, LGBTQ2SIA+ and those with disabilities face extra challenges seeking help, for violence and discrimination are widely accepted and propagated by individuals in society (Lee & Ostergard Jr, 2017). In addition, those already marginalized may have less access to computers, phones and even to being out of the home alone to seek out services and supports. This isolation was exacerbated during the COVID-19 with the closure of schools, libraries, coffee shops and salons.


Burnes, D., Acierno, R., &  Hernandez-Tejada, M. (2019).  Help-seeking among victims of elder abuse: Findings from the national elder mistreatment study. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 74(5), 891–896.

Campbell, J., Rose, L., Kub, J., & Nedd, D. (1998). Voices of strength and resistance: A contextual and longitudinal analysis of women’s responses to battering. Journal of Interpersonal Violence13(6), 743-762.

Carney, M., Buttell, B., & Dutton, D. (2007). Women who perpetrate intimate partner violence: A review of the literature with recommendations for treatment. Aggression and Violent Behavior 12, 108 –115.

Center for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children. (2015). Intimate partner violence (IPV) in rainbow communities. Learning Network, 12, 1-8.

Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities. Polity.

Demsey, B. (2013). Men’s experience of domestic abuse in Scotland What we know and how we can know more. AMIS – Abused Men in Scotland.

Feindel, P., & Roulette, K. (2010). Surviving relationship violence and abuse. Vancouver Legal Services Society.

Gondolf, E. W., & Fisher, E. R. (1988). Battered women as survivors: An alternative to treating learned helplessness. Lexington Books/DC Heath and Com.

Government of Alberta. (n.d.). Men abuse by women: It happens and it matters.

Hines, D., & Douglas, E. (2014). Health problems of partner violence victims: Comparing help-seeking men to a population-based sample. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 48, 136–144. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2014.08.022.

Holmes, C., & Hunt, S. (2017). Indigenous communities and family violence: Changing the conversation. Prince George, BC: National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health.

Lee, C., & Ostergard Jr, R. L. (2017). Measuring discrimination against LGBTQ people: A cross-national analysis. Human Rights Quarterly39(1), 37-72.

Prochuck, A.  (2018). We are here: women’s experiences of the barriers to reporting sexual assault. Vancouver West Coast LEAF.

Rollè, L., Giardina, G., Caldarera, A. M., Gerino, E., & Brustia, P. (2018). When intimate partner violence meets same-sex Couples: A review of same-sex intimate partner violence. Frontiers in Psychology9, 1506.

The Scottish Trans Alliance. (2010).


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