According to the 2006 National Vio­lence Against Women Survey, one in six women is a victim of sexual assault, a crime that Carol Anne Mar­chetti said is com­mitted repeat­edly by a rel­a­tively few number of perpetrators.

If we could take even a small number of offenders off the streets, we could greatly reduce the rate of [the crime],” said Mar­chetti, an assis­tant pro­fessor in the School of Nursing in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences.

Victim reports are cru­cial to iden­ti­fying offenders, she said. But the 2006 survey also found that only 10 to 20 per­cent of vic­tims report their expe­ri­ences to the police, a figure that Mar­chetti and other researchers have called a gross overestimate.

Mar­chetti, a cer­ti­fied Sexual Assault Nurse Exam­iner (SANE), has spent thou­sands of hours exam­ining and edu­cating vic­tims and gath­ering poten­tial DNA evi­dence. Over time, she began to notice that many of her patients regretted their reporting decisions.

When patients struggle with the deci­sion of whether or not to report, many of them  say, ‘Carol, am I going to regret it?’” Mar­chetti said.

Vic­tims who report attacks receive a variety of ser­vices to help them deal with psy­chi­atric com­pli­ca­tions and other health con­se­quences, but reporting sexual assault, Mar­chetti cau­tioned, “is not in the best interest of every victim. For some it might result in their death or their chil­dren being taken.”

SANEs, who must remain objec­tive, are not allowed to influ­ence reporting deci­sions. For her part, Mar­chetti wants to iden­tify fac­tors that could help vic­tims make appro­priate choices that align with their situations.

In her recent article pub­lished in the Journal of the Amer­ican Psy­chi­atric Nurses Asso­ci­a­tion, Mar­chetti found sev­eral cor­re­la­tions between regret and reporting deci­sions. Par­tic­i­pants who expe­ri­enced weight gain after an assault, for example, tended to regret their deci­sions. Those who sought pro­fes­sional treat­ment expe­ri­enced less regret. Per­haps most strik­ingly, 70 per­cent of par­tic­i­pants who did not report their attack regretted their decision.

Mar­chetti was not sur­prised by the finding, noting, “We often regret the road not taken rather than the road taken.”

Marchetti’s survey is avail­able online. As more data becomes avail­able, she will repeat the study with a larger pop­u­la­tion sample. Ulti­mately, she would like to develop a deci­sion aid based on her results that could assist vic­tims in the decision-​​making process.

Such an aid, Mar­chetti said, would be “con­sis­tent and not loaded one way or another but would address all the ques­tions SANE nurses encounter.”