You Might Know Or Love A Rapist, But That's No Excuse

Hands Covering Man's Eye and Startled Woman's Mouth
Hands Covering Man's Eye and Startled Woman's Mouth

False rape claims constitute between 2-8 percent of all rape reports, with studies consistently leaning on the 2 percent end of that spectrum. Sexual assault and rape are, according to the FBI, reported falsely at the same rate as other violent crimes.

That's right -- you're just as likely to be falsely accused of robbery as you are rape.

Despite the low rate of false reporting, only 13 percent of survivors come forward out of the fear that they, like many, will not be believed. And narratives featured in The Hunting Ground, We Believe You and Missoula, tell us such fear is not unfounded.

To experience something so devastating and then have people not only not believe you, but throw support to the person that did it to you -- it's outrageously dehumanizing.

I am a survivor of college rape. I faced this same dehumanization.

Every time people wanted to talk about how maybe my rapist was just confused, or accused me of lying, the trauma of my rape dug its ugly heels into my heart again. It wasn't just one person, one rapist, doing wrong by me anymore -- it was people I loved and knew diminishing or even excusing the wrongness of what he'd done.

That's why the Brock Turner case, and the anger that has swept the nation, has been both inspiring and terrifying to me. I've felt hopeful as I've seen my news feeds fill with anger over what Turner has done and how he got off with a six-month sentence.

Such news-feed anger has also raised disappointing questions for myself and many other survivors. I want to know: why don't our peers on college campuses respond similarly when we tell them that we've been raped by their friend, fraternity brother, or the star football player?

I have bad news for you. You might know or love a rapist. You might know a Brock Turner.

And that is no excuse for not believing a survivor that says they were assaulted.

After I went public with my own story, people started to come to me to talk about sexual assault. One of most frequent queries I'm presented with is the dumbfounded confusion students feel when one of their friends or acquaintances has been accused of raping someone. I watched my own friends experience this when I told them about my assault.

I've found that sometimes people don't believe the survivor not because the survivor is inherently unbelievable, but because we don't want to believe that someone we know, love, or have had a positive experience with would knowingly commit a crime like rape against another person.

Rape myths tell us that rapists are strangers that hide in alleys or behind bushes waiting to jump out and attack us. We aren't taught to believe that rapists can be the kids we dance with at bars, our lab partners, our romantic partners or our friends. But on college campuses, at least 80% of rapes are committed by their victim's acquaintances.

Rapists are not the strangers behind bushes we paint in TV shows and movies. At least 80 percent of rapes on college campuses are committed by someone's friend, lab partner, boyfriend. And though only a small percentage of college students commit rape, it would be complacent to believe it impossible that you could know a rapist, too.

A 2009 study examined 1,146 navy recruits who'd never been convicted of sexual assault, and 144 of the recruits - -13 percent -- turned out to be undetected rapists. And of the 865 attempted or completed rapes the study found, 95 percent of them were committed by just 96 of those individuals, 8.4 percent of the total study population.

This tells us that a small portion of our campus population gets away with staggeringly high rates of sexual assault.

And one of the many messed up reasons they're getting away with it is because rape myths that teach us that strangers, not acquaintances or friends, will commit rape. So when we hear our friends may have raped someone, we often times don't consider the possibility that this is true. Such disbelief in turn makes survivors -- up to at least 87 percent of them -- feel unsafe to come forward and report.

Every time we choose to not believe a survivor, we perpetuate rape culture.

If you were angered by the Brock Turner case, by how his father dismissed his actions, then I encourage you to hold on to that anger.

Think about the anger you felt over Brock Turner if someone you know is accused of rape.

Being a seemingly nice guy with friends and being a rapist are not mutually exclusive. Just ask the 39 people that sent letters of support on behalf of Brock Turner.

It is easy to fill our news feeds with anger when a swimmer we don't know gets away with such wrongs. But every time we choose to believe that our friends couldn't commit sexual assault and instead call survivors liars, we are just as accountable and wrong as Judge Aaron Persky for perpetuating a culture that dismisses the seriousness of rape.

It's on us to make sure survivors know: We believe you. We support you. You are not alone.

We can start by believing all survivors, no matter who their rapist is.