#MeToo and the most unreported crime in America

The second time Miriam Joelson was raped she did what she had done before, when another man raped her: She stayed focused on her college studies -- and said nothing to police.

Despite the two assaults she had suffered in college, Joelson maintained her silence after graduation, eventually landing a coveted position in Google’s legal operations. But eventually the trauma she had borne so long in isolation caught up with her. One day she was simply overcome by the post-traumatic stress and collapsed in her office.

"There were so many reasons I didn’t report the crimes when they happened," Joelson told Fox News, before adding that there are a variety of factors that can affect someone's decision on whether or not to report.

"Reporting can be a challenging and painful experience for many," Joelson said. "I reflect on my experience with gratitude — but also recognize that I am a straight, white, college-educated woman, and, at the time, had a job at a leading tech company, where I was surrounded by supportive, inclusive peers. The experience can be very different for someone without my privileges," she added. 

In Joelson’s case, her colleagues at work provided critical support.

"Before I [reported] the crimes, one of my managers at Google gave me a little necklace that said, ‘be brave;’ another coworker had flowers delivered to my desk. One of my closest friends helped me plan my trip, and another hopped on the same flight with me and accompanied me to the police station. Many more sent their thoughts in the form of texts, calls, and emails. Gestures like these, gestures of support and love, didn’t just help me report—they continue to help me heal," Joelson said.

Today she helps others find their voice with her group Project #HereForYou. Joelson says the goal is to not only connect victims with people they can talk to about their experiences, but also find the resources that are sometimes necessary for victims to simply continue going on with their lives.

2nd photo for Alex Diaz story

Miriam Joelson  (Courtesy Miriam Joelson)

"Disclosing assault — talking about it — helps survivors heal," Joelson says, "but when survivors disclose, it’s important that they are believed, listened to, and given the environment and resources they need to overcome the trauma."

Joelson's group has partnered with an organization called The Uncomfortable Conversation to help educate people on how to talk about sexual assault with survivors.

For some sexual assault victims, a family member can provide the critical support to break the silence.

That was the case for a beauty queen and star student, whose identity we are not disclosing. She takes college classes while finishing her high school education. She's a volunteer, an apprentice, an advocate, a devoted daughter and an international traveler. And before she turned 7 she became a rape victim.

But she bottled up her experience until she was old enough to drive, and shortly after she got her driver’s license she told her mother.

“It just blew me away," her mother said, "and I've never recovered from it. It happens to the best of families. Rich or poor, you just don't know."

The incident came as a surprise not only because the attacker was apparently a family acquaintance, her mother said, but because by all outward appearances, her daughter has been the definition of a happy, successful child all her life. She's admired by her peers, parents and professors and seems destined for an incredibly bright future.

It just blew me away, and I've never recovered from it. It happens to the best of families. Rich or poor, you just don't know.

- Mother of teenage rape victim

The same probably can’t be said about her attacker who is just weeks away from a likely arrest.

She and Joelson are in a minority among sexual assault victims. The Department of Justice says that in 2016, the latest year for which it has statistics, only 22.9 percent of victims report their attacker to the police. In 2015, the percentage is 32.5 percent.

"The finding that rape and sexual assault is one of the most unreported crimes, that's certainly been consistent over time," says Lynn Langton, chief of victimization statistics at the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Langton told Fox News that when those who didn’t report were asked, in a multiple-choice questionnaire, why they didn’t report being assaulted, “other” was the most commonly chosen option, a response that may be telling in its lack of specificity. The next most common reason victims gave for not going to authorities was the "fear of reprisal." Some 13 percent of victims considered it a "private or personal matter." And while 9 percent of victims suggested they reported the incident to another official, another 8 percent said that despite what had happened, they didn't want to get their offender in trouble.

Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, tells Fox News that some of the reasons people give for not reporting may seem confusing at first, but many are based in reality.

"As is often the case, for example, [victims] think 'well nothing will happen, and no one will believe me.' The reason for that is because, often, they are not believed and nothing does happen in the majority of cases," Saltz says.

As is often the case, for example, [victims] think, 'Well nothing will happen, and no one will believe me.' The reason for that is because, often, they are not believed and nothing does happen in the majority of cases

- Lynn Langton, Justice Department

Perhaps an even bigger factor, and one that Saltz notes is indicative of the familiarity of these types of crimes, is the fact that many times the attacker is well-known to -- or even loved by -- the victim.

"These are usually dates, boyfriends or significant others. A family member, or it could be a person that you work with, but the idea that what happened to you is horrible and there should be punishment gets obfuscated in the fantasy of what will then happen to the person who you have reported because often it is someone who you in some way depend on, or often love in some circumstances," Saltz says.

"If you love someone -- a parent who abuses a child, a sibling who abuses another sibling, someone who is your significant other but nonetheless raped you -- to come to grips with that conflict between 'but I still love them' often is what keeps someone silent. It's the same reason people are silent about domestic violence."

Such silence may be on the decline. The hashtag #MeToo movement became both a way to express solidarity and an online "forum" for victims to share their own stories. Twitter says the hashtag has been mentioned more than 3 million times in less than 4 months, and has reached users in more than 100 countries.

It’s difficult to quantify the number of actual crimes behind those millions of tweets. What is easy to see, however, is that this year many victims chose to share their stories. And, according to the data, this does appear to be a historical shift, and one that could inspire more victims to come forward and break the silence.