Over spring break, I went to Berlin. My third day there, I didn’t have a ticket for the subway, got pulled over by an officer, and was fined 60 euros. I tried to talk my way out of it (as any broke college student would), but he wasn’t budging, so I backed off.
When I told the friends that I was traveling with about the fine and my unsuccessful attempt at getting out of it, what I expected was a chuckle, some teasing, perhaps some jabs at my careless behavior.
What I did not expect was one male friend to get angry and declare this:
“Girls always pull this kind of shit and play the victim card. That’s why I have a hard time believing women who come forward with rape allegations.”
All of this was coming from a self-proclaimed supporter of women’s rights, someone who attends an Ivy League university and will be working for a company that encourages female employees to Lean In, someone who’s had all the opportunity in the world to, quite frankly, develop a baseline level of respect and sympathy for women.
We are so quick to attribute rape apologism to the alt-right or “meninist” movements, but are even quicker to dismiss the possibility that people in our own lives, even self-described feminists, share these thoughts. You never expect any of your friends to engage in rape apologism, until they do.
As hard as it is to imagine, women don’t come forward with sexual assault allegations because it’s a fun time for them. Unless your idea of fun includes:
- Being interrogated by the police about what you were wearing, how much you were drinking, what your sexual history is, and inevitably, if you were asking for it
- Being poked and prodded for up to four hours in the exact areas you were violated
- Being slut-shamed by your rapist, your peers, the media, and sometimes your family and friends
- Taking a leave of absence from university or work
- Going through years of therapy and litigation
- Paying (with money and emotional/psychological fortitude) for years of therapy and litigation
Yet our first instinct as a society is to dig for holes in a woman’s story, to smirk when we catch an inconsistency, to question her motives and behavior.
Refusing to believe a rape survivor signals to all women, including the survivors in our own lives, that they don’t matter, that our bodies can be used and violated and thrown away, that we should get over it and move on for fear of having a “severe impact” on the life of the rapist.
It is for this very reason that many women never come forward with rape allegations. On college campuses, more than 90 percent of rapes are never reported.
Despite going to school in a self-described “bubble,” the going ons of the real world are very much present, if not more pronounced, within the walls of my university and across most universities in America. One in every four women experience some form of sexual assault in college, a statistic that is bloated by the normalization of rape on university campuses.
Campus rape culture is a culture in which sexual assault is pervasive, but regularly excused and waved off via the conduits of alcohol and casual hookups. It’s a culture in which you would rather erase that night’s memory than come forward and be shunned by peers and dismissed by unsympathetic administrators. It’s a culture in which even when your rapist is found guilty, he gets off with a slap on the wrist.
Campus rape culture is the captain of the crew team sexually assaulting a girl at a party, but none of his teammates (who were all witnesses) coming forward to back up her claims due to “bro code” and team loyalty. The one brave team member who does come forward is promptly shunned for being a snitch. He quits the team.
Campus rape culture is slowly seeing less and less of the bubbly girl in your economics section. You hear from a friend that she’s taking a leave of absence from school. Life stopped for her. Next weekend, you see her rapist chugging beers and making out with a girl on the dance floor at a party. Life goes on for him.
It’s a culture in which you see your rapist everyday, and the burden is on you to change classes or move dorms. It’s hard to speak up when the whisperings of “girls always pull this shit” and “she’s playing the victim card” and “I have a hard time believing women who come forward with rape allegations” follow you even after you graduate. This line of thinking, and the people who espouse it, only serve to perpetuate rape culture, dehumanize and silence victims, and let rapists walk free.
We don’t tell victims of car theft to drop the charges because they might ruin the life of the car jacker."
False rape allegations are a reality, and like all false allegations for any crime, are incredibly unfortunate for the accused. The false Rolling Stone article a few years back added fuel to the fire. It told the sickening tale of “Jackie,” a girl allegedly gang raped at a University of Virginia fraternity house, and of an apathetic university administration who did little to support her. When her story slowly began to fall apart ― after details misaligned and facts turned into fiction ― people were quick to turn on her and embrace a “fake victimhood” and “rape hoax” storyline, a misogynistic narrative that generalizes and paints all rape survivors as attention-seeking, vindictive storytellers. This is dangerous.
Despite Jackie’s fabricated allegations, we should believe, as a matter of default, rape claims. As it turns out, the cost of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweighs the cost of wrongly pointing a finger at a rapist. False accusations are extremely rare and easy to clear with investigation. This is because rape itself is exceedingly hard to prove and even harder to prosecute ― physically, evidence disappears quickly, and psychologically, survivors struggle with PTSD, foggy memories, and emotional isolation. Of every 1000 rapes committed, 994 perpetrators walk free.
Yet we don’t tell victims of car theft to drop the charges because they might ruin the life of the car jacker. No one asks the victim if he was showing off his car, why he knowingly parked it in a seedy part of town, why he didn’t fight back against the thief, if he might’ve been asking for his car to be stolen. But why does this happen in every instance of rape? In the case of sexual assault, you’re not taking away someone’s material item, you’re taking away her sense of safely, her self-worth, her optimism and idealism, and sometimes, her will to live. Why is it okay to doubt, patronize, and shame someone who is courageous enough to come forward and tell her truth?
Rape is prevented not by longer skirts or less vodka, but by an understanding that we are never entitled to someone else’s body. An understanding that when a girl is passed out in the basement of your frat house, you take care of her, make sure she’s safe, and get medical attention if necessary. You do not take her behind a dumpster and repeatedly penetrate her unconscious body, and then tell the police that you were confused, or that she was confused, or that she wanted it.
In the 1960s, it wasn’t uncommon for men and women alike to publicly mock and shame the feminist movement. But today, we live in an age in which feminism has become popular and trendy, a nice word to add to the bio of a Tinder profile. An age in which not only women, but also men, actively attend Women’s Marches, express public disdain for Donald Trump, and call out overt sexism. And I think that’s awesome.
What isn’t awesome is when those external actions don’t align with internal beliefs.
What isn’t awesome is when the man who vehemently denounced sexual harassment at Uber says to his male friends that you only got your job at Facebook to help hit a diversity quota, not because you’re actually qualified (like he is), and that the only reason you’re doing product management is because you’re too stupid to be a software engineer.
Or when the man whom you’ve been having a conversation with about the importance of consent, after a few drinks, starts grabbing at you to dance with him, leaving bruises on your arms.
Or when the man who lectures you on rape culture and claims to have many female survivor friends turns around and asserts that he has “a hard time believing women who come forward with rape allegations.”
What isn’t awesome is when self-proclaimed “allies” begin to make those they seek to support feel unsafe.
Women live in a world where we are so often told to sit down and shut up. And if we stand and speak, we are told to stop causing trouble and that our opinions don’t matter. So much so that we begin to internalize this as a truth…
“I have a hard time believing women who come forward with rape allegations”
Guess what? I have a hard time sitting down and shutting up.
I highly recommend that those of all genders read A Gentleman’s Guide to Rape Culture.