Why Believing Survivors Is So Important

I want to start by saying that if this is a topic that is triggering or emotionally sensitive to you, click out and read this, or this or this instead. Your mental health is more important than what is in the news, and I urge you to spend some time loving and caring for yourself instead.

It’s in the headlines, in-office lunch conversation, and just about everywhere you turn. Sexual violence is more than a buzzword or a hashtag, and it has disrupted the lives of men and women all over the world.

Yesterday, September 27, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave her testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee alleging that Judge and Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. While many people have released statements of support and gratitude toward Dr. Ford’s bravery, she has also been met with immense scrutiny and even outright disbelief toward her testimony.

Unfortunately, this is not a new concept. Survivors of sexual violence often experience skepticism and incredulity when they come forward about their experience. Prominent players in Hollywood — Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Louis C.K., and dozens of others — have been exposed this last year, and it’s empowered and strengthened women by showing them that their attackers will not get away with it regardless of prestige or prominence. However, this case is finally an example of what happens when the government takes on #MeToo.

 

Why Women Don’t Report

In order to understand why it’s so important to believe women, we must understand the exact reasons why women are so afraid to come forward in the first place.

Sexual violence is violating and traumatizing, but it can also be very dehumanizing, which can cause significant feelings of shame and guilt to a survivor. One must grapple with the choice of exposing her own self-doubts and submitting to a test of her character or quietly dealing with the pain and emotional turmoil that her attacker roams free to hurt another person in the exact same way.

#WhyIDidntReport was created amidst the Kavanaugh accusations, and it showcases the various reasons women fail to report until years later or even at all. Some women say that they were scared. Some say that they thought no one would listen to them. Others say they blamed themselves for various reasons, including wearing a short skirt or drinking alcohol.

 

Why We Must Believe Them Anyway

Imagine you’re trying to tell someone something important, and the words just won’t come out. You’re moving your mouth, and you feel like you’re screaming at the top of your lungs. You’re yelling, shaking them to get them just to listen to you, but they can’t hear. They just sit and watch as you break your vocal chords just trying to get them to hear you.

That’s what it feels like to not be believed.

When we tell women that their stories aren’t true, or we say it’s “he-said-she-said,” we tell them that their assailants will continuously get away with what they’ve done. You can believe women without hurting the reputations and “smearing the name” of men. That’s why we have a justice system in our country that investigates and handles these situations unbiasedly. 

When women feel understood and validated about their experiences with sexual violence, they empower others and tear down systems that have previously been set forth. It took a group of empowered, strong women to take down Harvey Weinstein, but because someone finally decided to believe these women, they were able to really make a change.

 

It shows young girls (and boys) that this behavior is unacceptable

Girls in high school are watching this trial. They are paying attention to the words we use to describe women who come forward, how the media interacts with these women, and how our government decides to proceed with these sorts of allegations. By choosing to disregard the statements of survivors, we tell these girls that what has happened to them or their friends is excusable.

What happens when a 16-year-old boy reads that one of our Supreme Court Justices “got away” with rape? This signifies to them that they can do this to other women, not be held accountable, and still gain power in society. This is dangerous.

 

They need support

When survivors of assault choose to courageously open up about the horrific acts they have gone through, our job should be to support them, not interrogate or speculate. Sexual violence is a tolling experience in itself, but being up-front about it is even more difficult. It takes guts to discuss something so private and emotional with another person, so these individuals deserve respect.

 

History repeats itself

This isn’t the first time this has happened, and by actively dismissing the claims of abuse, we tell women everywhere that this won’t be the last. Anita Hill’s emotional testimony during the Senate Judiciary hearings for the confirmation of Clarence Thomas in 1991 has been brought up multiple times the past few weeks. The Senate chose to disregard her testimony, and Clarence Thomas still sits on our Supreme Court today.

We saw that one could sexually harass a co-worker and still be elevated to the highest court in our country in 1991, so it tells that same narrative to men today. Clarence Thomas wasn’t thoroughly investigated, so boys and young men see that they can do the same. It’s a vicious cycle, and by continuously failing to uphold our duty to investigate these claims, we make way for it to happen again and again. By making the conscious effort to believe a woman, we are potentially saving others from the exact same harm.

 

What do we lose?

False accusations are rare. According to Rape Victims Advocates, 2-8% of false sexual assault claims are fabricated, and this is the same statistic we see with other crimes. While I understand the need for due process in cases such as Kavanaugh, it’s equally as wrong when people immediately disregard the testimony of a survivor. This is exactly what breeds our culture that tells women not to report crimes because they won’t be believed.

When I say we must believe survivors, it’s more than just omitting the accused’s testimony. It means taking the time to find out the facts and investing to a fair degree. If he didn’t do it in the first place, what do we lose by taking the time to be sure?

 

Men have been believed for centuries. It has always been their say. So, why can’t we choose to believe a woman for once? When we finally give a woman the benefit of the doubt rather than smearing her character and coming up with excuses as to why she could be wrong, we make way for other women to come forward with their own experiences of injustice. We empower women to fight and stick up for themselves. We show young girls that our country is made for them, too.

A sexual assault occurs every 107 seconds in America. As you finish this article, approximately two individuals have been assaulted. We must believe survivors or we run the risk of showing everyone in our country that those two people don’t matter as much as politics do.

 

If you have experienced sexual violence and are feeling triggered or just want to talk, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

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