It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog piece. Life has been crazy, and I’ve been trying to complete a manuscript related to sexual assault on our college campuses. With that in mind, the Harvey Weinstein case has captured my attention, and it’s with a lot of relief that I notice so many of his close friends and associates speaking out against him for the many allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
While I’m pleased to see so much national outrage against Weinstein’s actions, they’re all just empty words and noise until the average sexual assault victim receives the same support when she comes forward. Sadly, this isn’t the case.
First, it’s important to remember that less than half of all sexual assaults are reported. (source). And, when they do report, victims who aren’t famous rarely see the same outrage as we’re seeing right now with Harvey Weinstein. Instead, they are most often doubted, blamed, and harassed.
Think about this for a moment: you’ve just experienced the most personal and traumatic violation of your life. It takes tremendous courage to come forward — more courage than 63% of all victims have within them — and by doing so you put yourself center stage to be ridiculed as a liar or money-grabber looking for a “huge settlement.” It’s no wonder most victims don’t report. Who wants to be put through all of that?
Let’s do the math: If statistics are true and one in four college women are assaulted before she completes her degree, then out of an incoming class of 4000 freshman women, 1000 of those women will be assaulted. Of those 1000 rapists (presuming a different rapist for each victim), only 470 will ever be formally accused. Of those 470 accused, only 8% to 37% will ever see a day in court due to the stringently high standard of evidence need to convict (source). Now, let’s split the difference and say only 22% of those accused will be charged and go to court. And then, if only 2% of those 22% charged see jail time, what’s your number ?
In other words, approximately 1 of those 1000 rapists will ever see a day of jail time. Shocking huh?
Some might say, “Then all the others were liars.” The answer is NO, they weren’t. In most cases, charges aren’t filed not because the victim was lying, but because there wasn’t enough concrete evidence to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” in court. And a prosecuting attorney will not take a case he/she isn’t at least 97% certain they’ll win. They know the law and the standard of evidence. They know what they know, but also what they can prove. Countless victims are contacted by prosecuting attorneys who say, “I believe you. I know this happened. But I can’t prove it before a jury of twelve.” Because in a criminal trial, if even one juror isn’t convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, there is no conviction. It must be all 12 and it must be unanimous.
Why is proving rape so much harder than other crimes? Because unlike any other crime, the victim has to prove a crime took place.
When your car is vandalized, you don’t have to prove it was vandalized or that you didn’t do it. When you’re working as a night cashier at the local gas station and you’re held up at gunpoint, you call the police and then don’t have to prove the robbery happened. But if you’re sexually assaulted, you have to prove (1) that the assault happened, and (2) that the accused is guilty. And doing so is very, very difficult.
In the case of Weinstein, it’s easy to condemn someone we’ve never met. It’s easy to look through the window and see clearly how and why the alleged perpetrator’s actions were wrong. It’s a different thing when that perpetrator is someone you know.
According to the National Institute of Justice, “85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim.” (source) What does that mean in the big picture? It means the victim and the rapist often travel in the same circles, probably sharing the same friends. It’s no wonder, then, that when a rapist’s actions become known, people are conflicted.
How could I know a rapist? How could I not know he’s a rapist? What does it say about me if he is a rapist? What does that say about my judgement in people?
The answer? Nothing. It’s not about you, but about the victim. Until we, as a nation, stop looking out for ourselves and protecting our own interests, we’re never going to overcome the disparity of power between a rape victim and his/her attacker.
How do we fix this? It’s simple. Believe the victim — she/he has nothing to gain by lying and shining a spotlight on herself.. Keep in mind, the incidence of false accusations of rape are roughly equivalent to the incidences of false accusations of any other crime — between 2% and 7%, depending upon which data you use. (source)
The friends and associates of Harvey Weinstein have been very brave. They’ve spoken out against their friend and comrade for behavior that is not only abhorrent and inexcusable, but vile and illegal. And, for many, it couldn’t have been easy. Now it’s your turn! The next time you hear the allegations of a rape victim, believe them. Yes, the alleged rapist deserves his day in court, but the victim needs your support. He/She has NOTHING to gain by creating a false report. Stand up and say, #WeBelieveYou.
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SEXUAL VIOLENCE SUPPORT RESOURCES