Trigger Warning: This post contains mention of rape, sexual assault, and victim blaming
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a tweet that greatly divided the Twittersphere. Grace Victory posted about two girls sharing their account of being sexually harassed at a music festival, British Summer Time, where they found two guys taking upskirt photos of them. After taking their phones in as evidence to the police, the girls were later told that it wasn’t a crime because their genitals weren’t on full display. Hurt and embarrassed, they took to the internet to share their story, and published a side profile, partially obscured photo of the perpetrators.
After Grace posted this to her followers, the replies were on fire. Many, rightly so, were outraged at this heinous act perpetrated against two girls who were just trying to enjoy themselves as a music festival.
Others, however, were on the defensive.
“It doesn’t even look like she’s wearing a skirt, those look like black pants,” one says.
“Do you have proof of this,” another chimes.
“We only know one side of the story,” another dares to say.
“False allegations for rape or sexual harassment are no more common than for any other crime.”
It seems that it’s not enough to go to the police with evidence of voyeuristic and indecent photos taken of you. Now you need to share your incontrovertible evidence with Twitter as well. Because, you know, somewhere out there in the world, someone lied once, so that immediately makes any story of sexual assault false.
The fact of the matter is, false allegations for rape or sexual harassment are no more common than for any other crime. In fact, only around 3% of reported sexual assault allegations are said to be untrue, and when only 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to actually come out and report it to the police, it makes for a very small window of false allegations.
So why are people so hung up on focusing on the small number of false reports? Just because they saw one article on The Daily Mail, who we all know to be an extremely ‘credible’ source, highlighting very rare, minority cases?
Sexual assault is a very real thing that happens to many of us, and for women in particular, it has become a part of our daily language since we came of age. It is so common, in fact, that one in five women under the age of 60 have said that they have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16. It is so ingrained in our society, yet we don’t believe victim when they come out and tell their story, all because some people lie. Which obviously means, by default, that everyone is a liar until proven otherwise. Concrete logic.
“Believe victims when they say they have been assaulted. Because they’re almost certainly not lying.”
Yes, it is awful when someone gets accused of a crime they didn’t commit; we’ve all seen The Green Mile. And those who make false accusations about serious crimes should definitely be punished for wasting police time, taxpayer’s money and distress to the accused.
But these are minor cases that do not occur everyday. Rape, sexual harassment, stalking, photos taken without consent–these are the things that do happen everyday. And the more time we spend dwelling on these rare false reports–and the more time we spend hypothesising the ‘what if’s or ‘but’s or ‘maybe’s–the more likely it is that we’ll see the 15% of reported sexual assaults decrease, because victims won’t feel like they will be believed.
There are terrible people everywhere: people who will twist words and bend the rules to get what they want. That’s a fact of life that, unfortunately, we can do very little about. But the more attention we give these people, the less attention we give to actual victims of rape and assault. Being on the defensive towards any woman who reports sexual violence because ‘she might be lying!!’ is a sh*tty stance to have, quite frankly, it doesn’t benefit anyone.
Lying about being abused or raped is a pretty scumbag thing to do, and the reality is, not many people will do it. So if you take anything at all away today, let it be this: believe victims when they say they have been assaulted. Because they’re almost certainly not lying.