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Victim blaming perpetuates the issue of assault

The prevalent disbelief surrounding sexual assault claims undermines the fight

Anya Jones, Contributing Reporter
Originally published October 25, 2018

Let’s talk about rape. It is an issue I have a lot of passion for, and an endlessly nuanced subject from which a thousand different discussions can be drawn. But I want to focus on one aspect in particular: the all-too-frequent occurrence of victim blaming, and the misconceptions about rape allegations that circulate through the media, politics, and even through the halls of Ballard High.

It is my belief that many people my age, as well as adults, are greatly misinformed when it comes to the number of assault and rape allegations that turn out to be false. In other words, the ones in which the accuser is lying.

Common Misconceptions

The other day, a friend of mine told me something she had heard in one of her classes. Students were discussing the Salem witch trials, and a boy made an analogy in which he compared witch hunts to how women frequently falsely accuse men of raping them.

However harmless this comparison may have been intended to be, the notion of women falsely accusing men of raping them “frequently” is one echoed in far more influential arenas. Take Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme Court nominee, and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who recently accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school. Dr. Ford was forced into hiding after receiving death threats after going public with her allegations. Why? Because people believe she is lying.

When a person comes forward with an allegation of sexual assault, the immediate reaction of the public is disbelief. This has been magnified recently, with the accusations of countless high profile men in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the growing momentum of the #MeToo movement. The judgements of right wing media, numerous public figures, and civilians, accuse these victims of lying to make themselves famous or  to ruin men’s careers. They made it all up, for fame and out of self interest.

Misplaced Skepticism

But let’s examine that. Using Dr. Ford as a current example of a woman accused of lying due to ulterior motives, I want to call out the fact that she has gained no fortune from accusing Kavanaugh.  It has not made her richer, it has not made her more popular. It did nothing to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation as Supreme Court Justice, as many people including our own President, his nominator, have risen to defend him and his character. However, she gets attacked from all sides, even by those who should have stood by her–such as the author of a USA Today article, a fellow assault survivor who nonetheless accused her of lying. Victims who make the brave decision to publicly accuse their rapists or assaulters gain nothing except an attempt at justice, and the chance to tell the public what kind of person the accused is.

The data support the truth: that most rape accusers do not lie. Statistics from the Rape, Incest, and Abuse National Network (RAINN) explain that in the USA, one in six women on average, and one in 33 men will experience attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. 90% of adult and 82% of juvenile rape victims are female. Only 40% of rapes are reported to the police. A fraction of those end in rapist convictions. And, most importantly: only around 2-10% of all rape allegations are false. This percentage is the same as it is for all other felonies. So no, rape accusers do not lie disproportionately about being raped. And yet,  no other felony is talked about in the same way, with the blame turned towards the victim. The argument that rape victims lie regularly persists, and is still perpetuated in the media, in Trump’s ever so articulate tweets, and in the minds of some of my classmates.

Erasing Victim Voices

Why is that misconception so harmful? After all, some may argue, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. And I do not disagree with that. I have full awareness of the fact that this is an extremely nuanced subject. Rape is, more often than not, a “my word against theirs” crime. That’s why it is hard to make generalizations about.

I fully understand why people wouldn’t want to believe sexual assault allegations. It’s hard to believe. A politician you support, your favorite actor, your childhood crush, your best friend– how could they do something like that? And people– namely boys–whom I know, are quick to defend. They aren’t rapists themselves, and so they don’t comprehend why someone else would be. I understand. I see the grey area, and I seek to be mindful of it. And the small percent of those who do lie about rape accusations deserve consequences. But to assume that those who are accused of sexual assault are automatically innocent– and thereby discrediting the claims of the accuser–is not only statistically unreasonable, it undermines those victims who are telling the truth. This creates a society with a lack of empathy and an assumption that women lie or exaggerate, as well as a society where rapists can easily deny accountability. It creates a society which blames the victims.

Raising Awareness

Men are the most frequent perpetrators of assault, and in both my own experience and in the media they most frequently defend the accused over the victim and most frequently those who perpetuate victim blaming and non-factual ideas. But let me be clear: I do not seek to attack men. Nobody needs to read this and think “not all men,” that’s not my point. I don’t even seek to attack the boy in my friend’s history class, with his Salem analogies. I only seek to ask the student body to think before they speak, to realize the misconceptions that flow through our entertainment, our news, and our halls, and above all to just be open to listening. I believe in due process, but I also believe in listening to those who desperately deserve to be heard.

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Victim blaming perpetuates the issue of assault