I woke up thinking about rape again (the way one does) and pondering my favorite insomnia-producing question: “What does it take to get people to believe rape survivors?”
Which is a variation on another question I think about, any time my blood pressure threatens to drop below aneurysm-inducing levels: “Why don’t men believe women?” The issues are related, not because men are never victims or women are never assailants, but because — okay, that’s for another post on another day. (And if you’re truly confused about the connection between rape culture and misogyny/sexism, well…you may wanna pause here to take a few deep, grounding breaths before reading on.)
I mean, How Very Nice that Heisman Trophy winner, top NFL pick, and accused rapist Jameis Winston is now giving inspiring speeches to middle schoolers, but wouldn’t it have been even nicer if the Tallahassee Police Department had believed the young woman who came to them 2½ years ago — and told them she had been raped only an hour earlier?
A full and timely investigation might have, at the very least, spared young Jameis the embarrassment of publicly claiming that being falsely accused of rape is a violent act of victimization equivalent to being raped oneself. (Yeah — but no, Jameis. Just no.)
[“YEAH-BUT-NO TO YOU, ALICE!” yells the strawman rape denier/enabler in my head. “IT’S ALL ‘HE SAID-SHE SAID’! WHY SHOULDN’T I BE SKEPTICAL! IT’S NOT LIKE THERE’S SOME LIST OF CASES DOCUMENTING A SIGNIFICANT AND LONG-STANDING PATTERN OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYERS HAVING A DICEY GRASP ON WHAT ‘CONSENTING ADULTS ONLY’ MEANS!”
What does it take for people to believe survivors? I ask again. While Bill Cosby may present an extreme case, the violent aggression and entitlement that supported his predatory behavior occurred not in the unknowable cesspool of a single diseased mind (well — not only) but within a set of cultural norms that encourage and protect such acts, especially for celebrities. [And before you even open your mouth, Strawman Rape Denier, two words: DARREN. SHARPER.]
What follows is a piece I wrote back in November, when 14 women had already accused Cosby of drugging and raping (or attempting to rape) them — yet fourteen she said‘s was still not enough, in some people’s eyes, to outweigh a single he said.
The number of women has now reached more than 40, and only the most die-hard “my head’s in the sand cos THAT’S WHERE I LIKE IT” folks are still supporting Cosby (or, at least, supporting his ongoing stand-up tour). But where was the tipping point? Between one woman saying — and fourteen women saying — and forty women saying — when was it enough she said‘ing for most people to believe?
Maybe you can help me understand?
Here, let’s try this. I’ll pour — and you say when:
She said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said …
I’m only gonna say this once, so LISTEN CLOSELY.
[TW for discussion of sexual assault. Most of these links, too, I’m betting. Also: adult language.]
Didja hear about the rape/sexual assault/incest allegations that have been raised about your beloved actor-slash-TV dad/singer/writer/other writer’s husband/other actor-slash-TV dad/director/other director/radio personality? And when you did, whom did you believe?
If you gave credence to the survivors, then we’re good. You can sit this one out. You’re not who I’m talking to.
If, on the other hand, you found yourself thinking, “Wow, I sure hope that’s not true. Of course, there’s no real way to know, so best to remain skeptical. Maybe there was just some miscommunication. I have a lot of questions for those people claiming to have been attacked. I mean, they hardly behaved like Real Victims™. And how terrible for him, if he’s being falsely accused. I’m stumped…but there does seem to be some ‘palpable bitchery’ going on. I mean, why didn’t they just speak up at the time? They shoulda reported that to the police, if it really happened. ‘Innocent before proven guilty’ and all…” –I have one message for you:
This obviously goes double for any of you who have previously expressed the opinion that drugging a 13yo girl before sodomizing her unconscious body doesn’t qualify as ‘rape-rape.’ (In fact, if you work for The View — especially if your name starts with the letter “Whoopi” — I’m gonna suggest your producer should just install a mega-mute button s/he can use on you any time you start to open your mouth about these types of allegations.)
Please also — for the love of all gods alive and dead — resist any urge you might have to explain to a survivor how she could have avoided being assaulted if she had just remembered to bite the guy’s dick off.
If you preside over one of the most visible anti-sexual violence networks in the country and you feel the need for investigative journalists to dig around for more victims before you’re willing to stand with the 14+ who have already come forward, please STFU. If you’re also the man who previously allowed your organization to go on the record as doubting that ‘rape culture’ contributes to assaults (scare quotes are yours, BTW) on college campuses, could ya go the extra step and make sure someone fires your ass? Kthxbai.
You wanna abdicate holding any opinion on the grounds that it’s all just ‘he said/she said’? Has it escaped your notice that most of the time, it’s actually a case of “he said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said”?
Go read this. Then STFU.
If thinking about how much this man’s work means (or has meant) to you, how hard it would be to give that all up if you acknowledge the likelihood that your beloved celebrity is also a predator — in fact, if you thought anything less than “Art is nothing compared to humanity, nothing at all” — please STFU.
(Same rule applies for anyone who actually knows the celebrity in question, obvi.)
If you find yourself feeling dubious every time one of these situations hits the news, ask yourself: how many victims have you ever listened to closely? Or are you really responding out of wide-spread cultural myths?
There are recognizable patterns to how people who have been assaulted process and describe their experiences. (Ditto for the approximately 2-out-of-100 allegations that are false.) If you don’t know what those are, then make a point to learn them–or please just STFU and sit this one out. There’s sure to be a non-sexual-assault scandal breaking shortly; you can have ALL THE OPINIONS about that one, I promise.
If you believe the accusations — but only after a man spoke up, and not during all the years when women were telling their own stories — well, okay, you get one pass. Moving forward, couldja maybe stop disbelieving women? Getting treated like we might be sociopathic liars–like, all.the.time.–gets old fast. Seriously old.
Also, own up to your past mistakes. Not sure how? Here’s a model you can follow.
Often, communities will protect members who are also perpetrators, with only word of mouth to warn newcomers about the dangerous “missing stair” (as Cliff Pervocracy terms it) in their midst. If you belong to such a community — and you don’t speak out because (1) you’re not personally at risk and (2) it benefits you not to — congrats! Yes, you’re complicit too!
Please now STFU and do some real soul-searching about that fact, instead of writing egregiously self-excusing articles for Salon.com.
Yes, in such cases, silence is complicity that perpetuates a toxic culture. Not listening to victims who speak out is complicity. As for me, “I know where I stand and why. I know I would rather stand where I stand and eventually be proven wrong than support [an abuser or rapist] and eventually be proven wrong.”
Speaking out can be incredibly risky for victims, even when they weren’t assaulted by someone famous. Survivors have the absolute right to decide for themselves the best way to move forward. Let’s center their needs and experiences for once.
Now if everybody else would please just STFU for a moment…
all .gifs via giphy.com. “This is a fire.” via Mark Reads.