The assumption that most sexual assault victims lie has been proven false and this fact has been known for quite some time. Yet, the toxic notion still prevails.
Since late last year we have heard women and men come forward with their experiences with harassment and sexual assault as part of #MeToo, a movement started by activist Tarana Burke over a decade ago and catapulted into the spotlight because of the hypervisibility of the accused. We have also heard the rumbling undercurrent of the cishetero patriarchal establishment trying to buck against the changing times.
2017 was a start, but we still have a long way to go. The proof lies in the heated debates over the Aziz Ansari allegations. What should have been another voice to join the #MeToo chorus became way for opponents to begin anew at their attempts to dismantle the movement.
“Why didn’t she say anything, if she didn’t consent?”
“Why did she do those things if she were really scared?”
“Why didn’t she tell any authorities if it were really assault?”
By the second week of 2018, it seemed that, so many people have forgotten the education that previous year brought. The stereotypes and fallacies that had stifled voices for so many years were back in full force.
In truth, sexual assault and rape allegations have always been heavily shrouded in suspicion, so much so that no matter how the victim acted before, during, or after the assault, no matter how they reported her experience, or how long it took them to come forward, the victim was always at a disadvantage. They are always lying.
That sounds harsh, but the stereotype is so deeply rooted in our society, that we learn to strongly believe the most rape victims are lying about their assault despite data which proves otherwise. The victim must come forward with enough DNA to reconstruct the assailant in a lab like some “Black Mirror” type of scene. Otherwise, the missing evidence indicts the victim and exonerates the rapist in the court of public opinion long before they even go to court. Actually, many of the victims are treated like criminals for no other reason than their desire to report the heinous crime they underwent.
The behavior of the victim, the time it took to report a crime, and the assumption of a false claim are what stand between sexual assault victims and justice every day. The reality is that only a fraction of the reported cases ever see the inside of a courtroom. Most are stomped out before an investigation even begins. The RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) website states that, “out of every 1,000 cases, only 13 cases get referred to a prosecutor.” The organization goes on to state that only about seven are prosecuted to a felony conviction. Seven!
Meanwhile, the 987 leftover cases are never prosecuted, but that does NOT mean the accused are innocent. The cases are still supposed to be investigated before they are considered “false claims”. A study entitled “False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases” found that only 2-10% of those cases are found to ultimately be false after proper investigation. That means that the majority of those unprosecuted cases represent crimes against victims that will never see justice. Incidentally, the 2-10 percent false claims are that same margin that appears in the reports of all major crimes, so it is not an anomaly or a rampant problem. The problem is that despite knowing that about 80 percent of the cases reported are unfounded — meaning not enough evidence to prosecute — the perpetrator isn’t innocent.
The assumption that most sexual assault victims lie has been proven false and this fact has been known for quite some time. Yet, the toxic notion still prevails. In fact, the majority of the cases that don’t make it to the prosecutor die due another prevalent toxic notion—that true victims are supposed to behave a certain way before, during, and after the assault. This is what the Aziz Ansari case in public opinion hinges on. The behavior of the victim, her words, her acts, movements, etc, are often the nails in the coffin of her credibility.
The Sexual Violence Justice Institute found that many of the cases get mired down during the investigation because of the investigator’s perceptions about sexual assault victims — they sit across from the victim watching, listening, and evaluating them according to the gender myths, stereotypes and false assumptions they were conditioned and raised to believe in.
The perception issue is a funny (weird) notion when you examine it. If the victim failed to meet what the officer has built up in their mind to be the proper behavior for an assault victim, the victim’s case is in danger of being set aside before an investigation even opens. If they do get past the investigative gatekeeper, there are more false assumptions and gender myths to overcome. This means that they must hope there’s enough evidence to prove their “side of the story”. For women and femmes, they must be sure that there are no Jezebel-like traits in their behavior leading up to the assault or after it. They must be as blameless as the Virgin Mary with enough evidence on her side to impeach a president. This is how that victim remains silenced and oppressed by notions that are old as time and still deeply embedded in our justice system.
Fortunately, 2017 started something, a movement that is growing and gathering steam. Women, femmes, queer, trans and non-binary people are joining a rising chorus of fed-up, pissed-off survivors who were not about to back down. 2017 started to become the year that cisgender men could feel the collective American male fear as the patriarchy finally started to crumble. However, in 2018 the shift to change things is going to have to reach much deeper, into the criminal justice system, before victims of assault can truly be safe to report the crimes committed against them, and have their day in court or find a kind of justice they are comfortable with.