In August 2012, I published a post on my former O. M. Grey blog, “Caught in the Cogs,” that outlines how to respond to an accusation of sexual violence so as not to further traumatize the victim. It contains examples of what to say and what not to say. The things I wrote and experienced a decade ago remain heartbreakingly relevant today.
In the wake of the deeply triggering Depp vs. Heard trial and coming up on a trial where Marilyn Manson is suing his victim Evan Rachel Wood, it’s a good time to remind people that 98% of rape accusations are true.
It’s important to believe the victim by default in order to avoid causing secondary trauma, because trauma is cumulative. For those of you saying, “but but but … it would ruin his life and what if s/he’s lying or exaggerating?”, please read this figure again: 98% are telling the truth. The benefit of the doubt belongs with the accuser.
Sadly, most people in our culture don’t default to believing the victim, not even after the #MeToo Movement went viral and people saw the ubiquity of sexual violence. The cultural script tells us to question the victim because we believe the accused by default.
No. This causes so much damage. Again and again, I hear the same things perpetuating the myth of frequent false accusations.
“What if she’s lying?”
“False accusations do happen.”
“People will just cry rape willy nilly.”
“I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what happened.”
All these piss me off, but especially the last one. Of course you weren’t there. Two people were there. Most predators ensure there are no other witnesses. That’s how they get to keep doing this over and over again. Rape culture and incorrect stereotypes about women, especially, fuel the rest. This is where you must believe. You’re either going to believe the victim, the person who has been traumatized, or you are going to believe the accused, the one scoffing and claiming “she’s* crazy,” again, misogynistic stereotyping there.
When you vow to “Believe the victim. Period,” I’m not saying you’re going to take every single word that comes out of her* mouth as the end-all and be-all objective truth gospel. What I’m saying is this: that you believe that something extremely traumatic happened to this person, and it was caused, at least in part, by this person they claim. Give the victim the benefit of the doubt, make the accused explain themselves. Not the other way around.
We must shift the burden of care.
May you find peace.
Please read an excerpt from my original post on “Caught in the Cogs” below:
It’s a horrific subject.
It’s a horrific act.
It’s a horrific aftermath.
In fact, there is absolutely nothing pleasant or fun or “sex-positive” about sexual assault and rape. No one wants to talk about it, and I can hardly blame them. It’s, as previously mentioned, horrific. Until I was raped, I avoided the subject like the proverbial plague. And, perhaps (in part) because I did avoid it, it’s now all I can talk about because I’m now a survivor myself. The assaults were not my fault. The fault lies solely on the rapist, but perhaps if I had talked about it, addressed it, recognized that it *could* happen to me and with a trusted lover, then I would’ve been more prepared to respond when it did happen, instead of just going into shock. Perhaps.
I’ve spoken with nearly a dozen sexual assault professionals in the past two months and have done countless hours of research on sexual assault in our culture, the “rape culture,” and read too many examples of sexual assault/rape. In every. single. instance, the survivor is not believed. Even when there is video evidence.
…here is how to handle a rape accusation:
- Believe the survivor. Whatever the “truth” of the situation, the wo/man feels assaulted, violated, traumatized. That is very, very real for the survivor, and there is very likely a good reason for it. Remember, 98.5% of reported sexual assaults/rapes are telling the truth. Odds are, s/he is, too. Believe them.This is what believing them looks like:
- “I’m so sorry this has happened to you. It’s not your fault. I’m here for as much or as little as you’d like to share. Without judgment. With only support and love.”
- “What can I/we do to help you feel safe?”
- “Do you need someone to go to the Rape Crisis Center with you?”
- “Do you need someone to go to the Police with you?”
- “I believe you.”
- Check in with them often. Perhaps have a support group of 5 to 7 people who each take a day of the week to be there so no one person gets overwhelmed with the PTSD. After all, everyone has their own lives to deal with as well.
- Remind them that you believe them and are still with them often. Understand that it takes MONTHS if not years to get over something like rape or sexual assault, if anyone ever truly “gets over it.” It changes a person on a very deep level.
- Understand that there is a spectrum of rape/sexual assault. They don’t all look like a stranger jumping out of the bushes and forcing himself with violence or deadly weapons. (An abuser has a wide, insidious arsenal, and they use love and trust and even spirituality as weapons of manipulation.) Rape/sexual assault also looks like crossed boundaries without further, explicit consent. It also looks like having sex with someone who is too drunk or drugged or distraught or scared to freely consent. It also looks like not stopping when indicated to stop either verbally or with physical cues like pushing him away or pulling away or crying. That’s removed consent. Which means, if he doesn’t stop, that’s rape. Period.
- Encourage wo/men to speak up in the community. Consider a private blacklist of those accused shared privately with women. Warn newcomers up front of people who have been accused of sexual assault or “bad boundaries” or whatever. Let them decide with all the information available. Don’t let them become another victim blindly.
- Reach out to the survivor personally, offering support. If you don’t, s/he will assume you are taking the accused’s side. I can’t begin to express how lonely this has been, even with the support shown by those close to me. The shame and isolation and fear is staggering. Reach out.
- BELIEVE THEM! Several years ago in the Austin burner (Flipside) community, a man was accused of sexual assault. The community rallied around him in support, claiming he’d never do such a thing. When a brave woman filed a report, THIRTEEN others came forward having been assaulted by this same man. Don’t let so many others be hurt because you feel uncomfortable with the topic of conversation. Your discomfort is minimal compared to the extensive PTSD and life-altering trauma caused by sexual assault. Seriously.Now another is accused. They’re behaving the same way, publicly at least. Rallying around him. How many others must be hurt before you begin asking the right questions?
If you and your community are interested in helping their members feel safe and protected…if you don’t want to perpetuate rape culture…if you want to encourage more wo/men to speak out when this happens, DO NOT SAY:
- “Are you sure?”
- “I’m sure he didn’t mean to.“
- “I know him, and he’d never do that.” – because, you really don’t know him. Seeing him at dances and potlucks and dinners isn’t knowing him. Abusers keep a very, very believable and charming facade in public. Period.
- “Maybe he just got carried away.”
- “That’s a very serious accusation. Do you have proof?” – This isn’t a court of law. This is a person who has been traumatized.
- And don’t ostracize them. Take extra steps to include them and make them feel safe. There is a lot of shame that goes along with this type of trauma, and the tendency is for victims to self-blame and isolate. Reassure them it’s not their fault over and over. Show them they have support. Otherwise, they’ll assume they don’t because no one is talking to her/him. They’ll think you just don’t care, because that’s rape culture. They’ve already heard the above far too often.
- Question the accused. This doesn’t mean assume guilt. This doesn’t mean condemn them. This doesn’t mean ostracize them. This means QUESTION THEM.
This is what you do/say:
- “What happened?”
- “Why does s/he think consent was removed/not given? Why were you still having sex with him/her if consent had been removed?
- Don’t let them skirt by on reputation and charm alone. They must speak to the events.
- Watch his reaction. If the word “crazy” or “sick” comes out of his mouth to excuse the accusation, beware. Look at how many other “crazy” exes the wo/man has. Has another “crazy” ex threatened to burn his apt down? Has a third been his “stalker” for 5 yrs? What’s the common denominator here? Does he go through wo/men as often as he gets his oil changed?
- Watch them. Have there been others? Do they go through wo/men quickly? Are there other symptoms of abuse?
- WATCH THEM: do they take responsibility FOR ANYTHING? Have they done everything they can to make amends/apologize/treat the survivor with care and understanding? (And not just by his word, by the survivor’s word, too.)
- WATCH THEM: if they vehemently deny and throw up gorilla dust and gather yes wo/men as character witnesses and don’t speak to the events, HUGE RED FLAG. This is how abusers respond. This is how a guilty person responds. It’s all about control and avoidance of responsibility.
- If they behave guilty, they probably are. Then, instead of saying “He’s my friend, he can’t be a rapist,” turn that around: “He’s a rapist. He can’t be my friend.” Period. (As Thomas says: “The rapists can’t be your friends, and if you are loyal to them even when faced with the evidence of what they do, you are complicit.”) [emphasis mine]
- 98.5% of reported sexual assaults are truthful. If s/he says she was assaulted/abused, odds are, she probably was. Which means, he’s probably guilty. Or, if not “guilty” of “rape,” then at least responsible for some sort of horrendous misunderstanding, mistake, bad judgment, or abuse that resulted in deep trauma. The assumption should be the survivor is telling the truth.
- If he is unwilling to take responsibility, to be accountable, to do everything they can to make amends with the wo/man traumatized, then they’re likely guilty. If not guilty of rape, at least not someone who is honest or with integrity, someone who abuses and treats people badly and without kindness or respect. In this case, ostracize them.