In the months after the #metoo movement spurred a new social zeitgeist in which finally, finally, women’s voices and experiences are being heard, believed, and treated with the same gravitas as men’s have for millennia – some have opined that the movement has gone too far. That we have turned away from centuries-old social and legal framework of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ toward an assumption of guilt. That this is akin to the breakdown of polite society, and that the floodgates of feminism have opened and will not close until all the men have drowned. Naysayers seem inordinately worried – but not about the women getting assaulted and harassed every day. They’re alarmed by the media’s ability to destroy the promising and distinguished career of a famous and powerful man like Kevin Spacey or Craig McLachlan with impunity and little proof. This is despite the fact that women are forty-five times more likely not to report rape than to make a false accusation.
This is an argument that, respectfully, is a bad one. No feminist or champion of the #metoo or #timesup movement is asking for the court of public opinion to replace the traditional adversarial criminal justice approach. What we are asking for is for women to be heard and believed, as it is when we report any other crime. It’s so crucial to realise that in many ways, we already do live in a culture of guilty until proven innocent.
Picture this: tonight your house is broken into. You are in the house at the time and you see and recognise the perpetrator of this crime. When, the next day, you tell your friend/boss/colleague/family member about what has happened, they believe you without question. You saw and recognised the person. Why would you lie about that? Though a judge or jury has not yet tried this case, your trauma and experience are recognised without reticence. However, the experience of survivors who speak up about sexual assault is very different. But if you were drunk, you may have forgotten giving consent? Weren’t you flirting with him all night? But you’ve slept with him before? What did you think was going to happen, wearing that? What did you think was going to happen if you walked home alone with him? If it really happened, why didn’t you tell someone sooner? That’s a very serious allegation, think about the damage you could do by spreading a rumour like that.
On top of the trauma of the assault itself, the experience of disclosing a sexual assault is marred by mistrust and accusations of lying, which can lead to devastating re-victimisation. Despite the societal view of a rapist being a psychopath hiding in the shadows ready to jump out at any moment, we know that the survivor most commonly knows the perpetrator of their sexual assault. The perpetrator is most often a friend, domestic partner, boss, colleague, or a person in a similar position of power known to the survivor. As we have seen time and time again, when a survivor speaks out against their perpetrator, they face the loss of their job, their family stability, their social circle and more. Survivors are routinely not believed in the wake of crimes of sexual violence.
This International Women’s Day, the theme is #PressForProgress. It’s a call to action to build on the incredible momentum made by the movements of the past several months and continue to fight against, not only the insidious levels sexual assault and harassment of women and non-binary people globally, but also pay parity, education equality, and more. It defies those who have said the movement has gone too far, and calls on all of us to reconsider how to be better allies and sisters in 2018. This IWD, the women in your life are finally speaking up, and your only job is to listen with an open heart.