You know the statistics. Your feminist friend/aunt/sister has rammed it down your throat a hundred times. 1 in 4 women. 1 in 10 men. She’s nearly fanatical in her belief that rape is major societal problem. She was probably raped herself at some point and is just having an emotional reaction.
So, when the news comes on and you see that yet another stupid whore is accusing a talented athlete or powerful man on Wall Street/Capitol Hill of rape, it’s easy to assume that she’s just trying to get attention. Why should some low-class wannabe ruin a brilliant career just because she regretted their encounter? I mean, heroes aren’t saints but they still do great things. Isn’t that more important than her accusation?
Whenever you talk to that feminist friend/aunt/sister, she always sides with the victim. She’s not rational enough to realize that no matter what the statistics say, not everyone who’s accused of rape is guilty. But you are rational. Logical. Skeptical, even. You’re proud of your ability to see both sides of the situation. After all, isn’t that what reasonable people do?
This kind of rationalization goes through the minds of hundreds of thousands of men and women every day. I’ve had these conversations with people who would otherwise consider themselves progressive, liberal people. They resent me for pointing out how easy it is and how crucial it is that they believe.
We’ve had plenty of high-profile rape cases in the media on which to solidify our mindset. From Clarence Thomas and Mike Tyson to Chris Brown, Julian Assange and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the average American justifies the sexual aggression of powerful men by diminishing the integrity, character and behavior of the female victims. Sure, my depiction above is a little exaggerated for effect. Those who read it and see something of themselves in it will surely assert that they sided with Anita Hill or Rihanna. They’re not biased or misogynist, they are just reasonable people who stick to the evidence.
In other cases in life, this may be an appropriate approach. When it comes to rape/gender violence/sexual assault in the media, I propose that it is not the appropriate response.
I’m just sitting on my couch, they may say. I have no affect on the situation. What does it matter what I believe? I propose that it matters more than anything else.
When you view the Justice Department statistics, you see a very clear picture of the situation in our country: women are raped often. Men are also raped, but less often. They are not raped because of sexual attraction or because rapists, almost always male, are mentally unstable or incapable of controlling themselves. They are raped by friends, neighbors, family members and trusted acquaintances in order to wield and display one person’s power over another. We also know that when rape is allowed to occur unpunished, rape becomes a tool of oppression. Around the world we’ve seen examples of the power that sexual aggression has to control public opinion. That is no less true here, just because we’re a first world country.
The statistics also say that rapes are rarely reported, even more rarely prosecuted and even MORE rarely are those cases won. Only 1 in 16 rapists will ever see the inside of a jail cell.
For the rapes that are reported, only 3% are false reports. This is on par with false reporting rates for murder, burglary and other crimes.
When rapes are falsely reported, the primary reason is NOT because the victim regretted a consensual sexual encounter. It’s because the victim was raped or molested earlier in life and failed to report it. The victim was most likely put in a situation with the accused and felt threatened, whether perceived or real. The victim, confused, angry and scared, then falsely reports a rape, seeking delayed but misplaced justice. It’s still a crime to falsely report. But the truth behind the crime paints a far different story than that of the attention-seeking whore.
Still, we default to that view whenever a high-profile rape case hits the media. We don’t trust privileged people, lawyers, government or the media when they report about politics or global warming but we believe them unconditionally when they report about sexual violence.
With this information in hand, it becomes clear that not only is rape a real problem, but justice for rape victims is also a problem. Is it so hard to see why victims don’t come forward; why they’d rather suffer in silence than face the wrath of the public eye?
It’s because people sitting on their couches and passing judgment are not inclined to believe, first. People put the burden of proof on the victim. They ask what she was wearing, drinking, has she ever lied about anything else in her whole life. They look for anything that will discredit her. They are looking for any poetic tidbit upon which to declare, SHE DESERVED IT! People do this because it is easier to blame the victim than to face the fact that they live in a society that effectively condones rape—especially if you are privileged or talented.
All this happens when a rape victim reports, even if you’re raped by a nobody. Imagine what happens when you’re raped by a somebody.
Would you report it?
Despite all this, we, the general public, have an extraordinary weapon against this problem. We can believe the victim. It harms no one—not even the truth. We have the freedom to believe because we are not police officers, judges or jury members. It’s their job to question and our job to believe. If we wield this freedom on our couches and in our conversations with friends, aunts, sisters and daughters, we can create a society that punishes the crime of rape.
To believe a victim when you have no first-hand knowledge of the situation, just because she could be telling the truth is a revolution. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
By choosing to believe a victim—in real life or in the media—you have a 97% chance that you’re right. You also have a 100% chance that anyone who overhears your analysis of a news story about rape won’t be discouraged from reporting their own rape. Isn’t that the rational, reasonable approach?