Trigger and content warning: this article addresses sexual assault and sexual harassment.
“Not everyone who claims they’ve been raped is telling the truth.”
How many times have I heard that in my career? In my personal life?
Honestly, too many to count. Too many to feel like the solution to believing survivors will happen anytime soon.
Yes, it is true. False rape claims exist. Depending on the country, false claims can make up between 2% to 8% of all rape claims. So worst-case scenario, for every 100 women speaking up about their sexual trauma, 92 are telling the truth. These are reported cases. There are plenty more women who have been raped but will not come forward. This lowers the false claim percentage to well below 1% if you consider the women who stay silent.
Unless there is insurmountable evidence otherwise, I’m going to believe the survivor.
How many men lie about not perpetrating rape?
Well, there’s not a statistic for that.
Because the question isn’t asked.
So what makes it okay in our society to ask if a woman is lying about her trauma but not question if a man is lying about his actions? Why can I google “false rape claim statistics” and come up with pages and pages of answers… but I search “statistics incarcerated rapists pleading not guilty” and come up empty.
The narrative, even when found guilty, still favours the perpetrator.
We live in a society where the scales of justice are not balanced. Men are supported by institutions, and these outweigh the voices of survivors.
The last few weeks have come as a real culture shock to many Australians. The number of women reporting sexual assault in Parliament House just seems to continue to grow. As women, we feel the impact. Even if we haven’t been sexually assaulted ourselves, we have can relate to the feeling of being more vulnerable to sexual assault than our male counterparts.
In saying that, I can only think of a small handful of women in my life that haven’t felt at one point or another that they had been on the receiving end of behaviour that crossed a sexual boundary for them to which they did not consent. Whether it was a hand dropping below the waistline in a hug or an unwanted ‘soothing’ hand on the leg, the vast majority of us can relate to being in a situation where we were uncomfortable. That is why women are outraged.
We are not only outraged for Brittany Higgins, who has been through an enormous ordeal these past few weeks and the years since her trauma. We are outraged also for ourselves. If the building that is meant to create a better life for Australians is also the location of such a horrific crime, what hope do we have?
The first thing I hear from men when I speak about this is the age-old, “Well, it’s not all men.”
Again, another perfectly true statement. Not all men have raped women. But here comes my next question…
How many women do you know personally who have been sexually assaulted or sexually harassed by a man? I know over 200 at least.
How many men do you know personally who have sexually assaulted or sexually harassed a woman? I know no more than two or three.
Somewhere along the lines, the math just doesn’t add up.
I always ask these questions when the topic of sexual assault comes up.
Most people answer will answer, “Pretty much every female I know” to the first question and “None” to the second question.
The reason we say the problem is with men is because we know there are more than two or three men out there who have perpetrated sexual assault or harassment; we just don’t know which ones they are. So we stay alert. We treat all men as though they have the potential to do harm.
Not only this, but our fight is against the network of men who support these perpetrators too. It’s the men who have stood by and watched their friend get a girl too drunk to give or deny consent and then take her home. It’s the men who have sent pictures of their genitals to women without their consent. It’s the men who have forwarded nudes of women that those women sent only for their eyes. It’s the men who believe that the responsibility for contraception should rest solely on the woman’s shoulders. It’s the men who have guilt-tripped a woman for asking a man to wear a condom. It’s the men who have sat there and blamed the victims. It’s the men who have been offended when this conversation has been raised.
When we speak about victim-blaming, we hear people question ask what circumstances led to the rape in question. Was the girl drunk? What was she wearing? Had she been flirting? But we never question the circumstances around the male. Was he wearing something that caused him to rape her? No, that’s ludicrous. So why do we ask women? We hear this narrative of women ‘asking for it’ because of the way they are dressed or the way they act. This in and of itself is ridiculous as there are many women who dress ‘conservatively’ and act ‘conservatively’ that have been survivors of sexual assault and / or harassment. But let me address this idea anyway.
I choose to own a car. I try to avoid driving it when I can and take a more environmentally-friendly mode of transport (mostly walking). But I do choose to own a car. Does that mean I’m asking to be car-jacked? Not at all. I drive my car around safely presuming that in my city, no one is going to car-jack my vehicle. If I were to be car-jacked, I cannot imagine anyone turning around and saying, “Well, she had a car, so she was clearly asking for it.” That just absurd.
So to me, the idea of women needing to suppress their sexuality in order ‘not to be raped’ is just as absurd.
All women and girls I know have been taught ‘how not to be raped’. For me, it was a class in school. The part of my education that I was missing was sitting in class hearing a talk for men on ‘how not to rape’. I ask my male counterparts frequently if they have ever been taught this. Many of them laugh and say “it’s ridiculous.”
Why is it ridiculous? Well, because not raping someone isn’t really that hard to do. You just… don’t… rape.
But if it were as easy as this, why are we still seeing women being sexually assaulted and harassed? There are deeper issues that cause men to rape, including their own feelings of sexual inadequacy and overall inadequacy. So I think it would be fair to say if women have to hear the speech about always walking with someone at night, making fake or real phone calls, holding keys like a weapon and so on and so forth, men should hear the speech about not shaming each other for vulnerability and speaking about what is making them feel the need to rape and addressing that.
I can think of over 30 ways off the top of my head that I’ve been taught to protect myself against rape (pro-tip: none of them work in every situation). When I ask my male friends what they do to protect themselves from being raped, they say they don’t even think about it.
The same thought is not on the mind of most men.
I have had men come back to that question with ideas of how they have had to protect themselves from being accused of rape.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
Their answer? “I won’t have sex with women if they’re too drunk anymore.” They don’t believe me when I point out what they were doing before was actually rape because consent cannot be given when intoxicated. This disbelief is another problem in itself; however, these conversations usually turn out one way: the list of ways a man ‘protects’ himself against being accused of rape is to stop actually raping women.
So for the people asking why women are so angry right now, this is an article on why. What Brittany Higgins and all of the survivors who have come forward in the last few weeks have been through is horrific and my heart genuinely goes out to them. I feel their pain in the same way millions of women across the country feel their pain — because to us, their pain is a magnified version of our everyday experience as a woman.
And it’s just not good enough.
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I want to address here that sexual assault is also experienced by men and at times perpetrated by women. No sexual assault is more important than another nor more valid. For the purpose of this article, I have addressed male-perpetrated sexual assault committed against women as this is the particular issue we are attempting to address in a place where I work. Support should be given to all survivors and justice should come down upon all perpetrators, no matter age, status, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background or anything else.
If you or someone you know has been impacted by sexual assault, family violence or domestic violence, please feel encouraged and safe to call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).
If you need crisis support, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
If you are in an emergency, you must call 000.
This article was originally published on Caterina Sullivan’s website.