Start by believing sexual assault victims

September 27, 2018

SLO District Attorney Dan Dow


There are countless reasons why people who are sexually assaulted or abused do not report what happened. Lack of a “timely filed” report does not mean the abuse did not happen and those who do bravely come forward must be supported. This is not a partisan political issue. It is a culture issue.

As a prosecutor of sexual assault and child sexual abuse, I know far too well that many survivors of these lurid crimes live with deep pain for decades, or for a lifetime, without telling anyone of the abuse.  Sadly, there are many widely believed myths in society – our jury pools – that promote skepticism and cynicism towards those brave survivors who eventually report sexual abuse. Here is the bottom line:  lack of a “timely filed” report does not mean the abuse did not happen and those who do bravely come forward must be supported.  This is not a partisan political issue. It is a culture issue.

There are countless reasons why people who are sexually assaulted or abused do not report what happened.  Some of them are:

It’s painful. It’s deeply personal. It’s embarrassing. It’s uncomfortable. I won’t be believed. I am ashamed. I feel guilty. I feel betrayed. I feel sick to my stomach. I am afraid.  I will be laughed at. I will be punished. No one will understand me.  I shouldn’t have been there.  I shouldn’t have allowed it to happen. I wasn’t strong enough. I didn’t know how to say no.  I froze. I was scared. I must have done something to cause this to happen. I don’t want to be talked about. I look stupid. I will be called a slut. I can’t report it to the police because they are all men. I will be disgraced.

Many survivors decide to live with deep, emotional, scarring pain because it seems much easier to endure than being under a microscope subject to other people’s criticism if they disclose the abuse.  Even when reported, not every case of sexual abuse can be prosecuted in the criminal justice system because of the very high burden of proof required under our Constitution.  However, as a society, we have a human obligation to support and assist every brave survivor who comes forward to seek help. If we do not, sexual abuse will continue to pervade our culture.  Far too long we have kept sexual abuse in the secret shadows and have not ensured that survivors can feel safe reporting sexual abuse.

Studies show that more than half of all sexual assaults are never reported and only 12% of childhood sexual abuse is ever reported.  The question we should all be asking is, “How do we encourage every person who is sexually abused to report it?”  The answer is, “We must Start by Believing.”  Until our culture is willing to provide comfort, safety and genuine support for those who are abused, victim survivors will continue to hold the pain inside without seeking help through reporting. This will enable sexual abusers to continue their predatory behavior.

I stand up for survivors of abuse and sexual assault because I know that sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse is extremely underreported and every single person, regardless of age, gender, or socio-economic status, deserves to be supported and treated with dignity and respect. We must come together as Americans and commit to stopping sexual violence wherever it occurs.

This is not a partisan political issue. It is a culture issue. To change our culture, let’s “Start by Believing.”

You can help by volunteering or supporting our local nonprofit organizations RISE and Stand Strong.


I think I understand the issue(s) as my wife is a “survivor” of incest. What I don’t understand is using abuse as a thinly and poorly disguised political weapon.


Mr Dow:

While should encourage sexual abuse victims to come forward we must respect the presumption of innocence the accused enjoys as a right. We also must guard against the type of prosecutorial environment that leads to galse testimony and false convictions that can occur. I suggest you read up on the child abuse convictions that occurred in the 1980’s in Bakersfield. On the testimony of children 36 people were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. Two of the convicted died in prison before the convictions were reversed on appeal after it was learned the children were coached by family members, law enforcement and prosecutors.

The thought was that children never lie and therefore anything they allege must have happened, even when no physical evidence exists to corroborate the allegations.

This is flawed logic, yet it sounds like that is what you are asking the public (potential jurors) to do. If this is so, I cannot help but think that we may witness history repeat itself sometime in the near future.

Support the survivors of sexual abuse by supporting law enforcement’s ability to conduct fair, impartial and objective investigations outside the influence of victim’s advocacy groups and without pressure from elected officials eyeing positive press coverage.

Noodly Appendages

Okey doke Dan,

From now on, any allegations made against YOU and your office will automatically be ‘believed’. Your ‘victims’ deserve as much. My allegation against you is this: you are absolutely lying when you say “This is not a partisan political issue”. You just HAPPENED to get these deep emotions on the issue during the Kavanaugh hearing. I’m pretty sure this opinion of yours should not have leaked out onto a keyboard.

Jorge Estrada

I propose that the best resolve for the “Me Too Movement” is to promote a “Right Now Movement”.


Even if the monster is caught in the act, tried and convicted, they get a virtual slap on the hand like Brock “Rape-Boy” Turner.


This is an attempt to shift the blame from prosecutors to the general public. I believe the victims, but I don’t matter. It’s time for the prosecutors and investigators to start believing the victims.


PS The young men falsely accused faced tremendous loss. Tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, the Duke students were kicked out of school, public defamation, etc.

Rich in MB

Sorry Dan…. but the Presumption of Innocence is the bedrock of our legal system and for the County DA to not understand this either puts you as a Political Animal seeing to improve your standing for future elections or completely incompetent to hold your current position. (or possible both).


Agreed. But not every alleged act actually happened. We have a concept, “Innocent until proven guilty”.

There are many cases with wild, false allegations.

Tawana Brawley, New York, with attorney Al Sharpton was quite legendary. A young girl claimed to be kidnapped, raped, and covered in feces by white racist police officers. All a fabrication to cover time with her boyfriend.

Or try the Duke lacrosse case. Young student athletes falsely accused by a stripper of assault and or rape. It’s been a ling ti.e, Google it.

We have evolved. President Bill Clinton was accused of rape and sexual assault by several women, and Hillary labeled these allegations “bimbo eruptions”.

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