Trigger warning for rape culture & extensive enumeration of the abuse people get for reporting rape, assault, and the like.
So why do we believe someone who says they've been assaulted or raped?
First off, this is a disingenuous question to even ask in the first place. Like I say in this other blog entry, when a person tells you something, we generally believe them, at least provisionally. If your friend were to tell you that they had just gotten into a fistfight, or been rear-ended while driving to work, you would take them at their word, even though the events they're describing are hardly mundane. In this respect, assault is no different. The notion that we need some kind of special proof or dispensation to believe someone merely because the topic is sexual assault is bullshit.
But if you were to cast about for reasons to believe someone, what would you find? Well, you could look at the statistics around false rape reports. The studies in this field which have been meticulous about ascertaining whether or not reports of rape were actually false -- as opposed to, say, the investigating police officer thinking they were false, or the victim recanting under duress -- show the rate of false reports to be very low -- somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-8%. Rape is drastically underreported, not drastically overreported.
You could look at the consequences of you not believing a legitimate report -- namely, that you are revictimizing someone who's just been through an extraordinarily traumatic experience, and you are discouraging other people from reporting by telling them that they won't be believed either.
You could look at what the consequences of a false accusation are -- that the accuser opens themselves to criminal mischief charges or a civil suit, as well as to a litany of reputation-ruining exposure in the media and elsewhere.
But as it presently stands -- and as horrible as this is -- probably single most compelling reason to believe someone who reports having been assaulted or raped are the consequences of making a completely true accusation. The torrent of abuse you'll receive goes far past slurs and name-calling, and it doesn't all come from anonymous trolls on the internet. You will have people trying to tear you down in every way imaginable -- threatening you; blaming you for what happened; telling you that you're a liar; telling you that you're ruining some poor schmuck's life by making a big deal out of nothing. I can say with no hint of irony or exaggeration that you will be
- accused of exaggerating details of what happened;
- accused of having made up the entire thing out of whole cloth;
- accused of being an attention whore;
- accused of being a garden-variety whore;
- berated for your decision on whether or not to explicitly name your attacker, regardless of what it was;
- berated for who you reported your assault to, regardless of who, if anybody, you did;
- berated for your behaviour, no matter how much it does or doesn't match that of the stereotypical rape victim;
- berated for "causing drama";
- accused of trying to ruin your attacker's life;
- accused of defaming your attacker's good name;
- told that your attacker should sue you;
- told that you should be punished should your attacker be found not guilty;
- told that you are making a big deal out of nothing;
- told that your assault isn't "real" assault;
- told that you are ruining the good name of the industry by saying something,
- told that your talking about your assault is as bad as the assault itself;
- told that it was your fault because you didn't adequately protect yourself;
- told that it was your fault because of how you were dressed;
- told that it was your fault because you were drinking;
- told that it was your fault because you were around people who were drinking;
- told that it was your fault because you were "leading your attacker on";
- told that it was your fault because you couldn't "read" the "cues" of your attacker;
- told that it was your fault because you are too attractive;
- told that it couldn't have happened because you are too ugly to fuck;
- told that you deserved it;
- called a bitch, and any number of variants thereof;
- called a liar, right to your face;
- called a liar, in any number of roundabout ways;
- treated like damaged goods;
- treated like you're emotionally broken;
- treated like you're irrational;
- treated like you're delusional;
- treated like you're hysterical;
- threatened with loss of your job;
- threatened with damage to your career;
- threatened with physical violence;
- threatened with rape;
- threatened with death.
All of this is sadly and disgustingly predictable. I've seen it play out several different times, with several different people, and while the harassment varies by medium, it never varies in kind. Before you say "well, that's anonymous troll comments", rest assured that many of these same sentiments will be delivered via private email, twitter, IRC, and so forth, and by people who are quite content to use their real names while doing so. And while it's all well and good to say you should just ignore it, how can you really brush it off when these same themes appear in blog posts of people who are prominent in the community, people who you once yourself respected, and who may yet control whether or not you get your next job or contract?
Sexual assault doesn't reside in some alternate reality. As such, it doesn't have a different standard of truth than everything else in the world. Survivors don't need the bullshit inquisition that masquerades as rational skepticism. Knock that shit off.
- Slate: Why cops don't believe rape victims and how brain science can solve the problem
- Rant Against the Random: Why I Won't Publish Your Comments About False Rape Accusations
- Geek Feminism Blog: Because sexual assault is more common than you think
- My Left Wing:: How Not To Be An Asshole: A Guide For Men